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Police: Water theft a growing, dangerous crime

It takes a crook less than five minutes to drive up to a water hydrant, attach a hose and steal water — a crime that puts lives at risk.

LAUREL, Md. — It takes a crook less than five minutes to drive up to a water hydrant, attach a hose and steal water — a crime that puts lives at risk.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides drinking water and sewer service in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties estimates almost 150 million gallons of water were stolen last year.

Who would steal water?

“They may have a landscaping business, and they want to get the water for free, they may work at a construction site and want to wash bricks,” said WSSC Police Chief Harvey Baker. “It takes three to five minutes to hook up a hose and steal the water.”

“They think water’s free,” said Baker. “Most people take it for granted.”

WSSC estimates the stolen water costs between $500,000 and $1 million per year.
Also, people who tamper with hydrants can damage them as well as nearby water mains.

“They’re putting lives at risk, firefighters’ as well as citizens,'” said James McClelland, deputy fire chief for Prince George’s County Fire and EMS.

Fire crews, which typically carry a few minutes of water on a truck to allow fire suppression while hooking up to a hydrant, have to move if they encounter a damaged hydrant.

“If we have to go another 800 feet, we may run out of water, prior to establishing a constant water supply,” said Chief Scott Goldstein of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.

Citizens can legally purchase water from a WSSC hydrant by leasing a fire hydrant meter.

The presence of a meter is a good indication the water is being legally bought. A simple hose attached to the hydrant means the water is likely being stolen.

Citizens who believe someone is illegally taking water from a WSSC hydrant are asked to call WSSC police, at 301-206-8888.

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