PUBLISHED: 11:02 PM 7 Nov 2017

City Of Phoenix Launches Investigation As Captured Images Reveal Thieves’ Intention

“When they’re hooking up directly with a hose, that’s something that’s a little off and it shows they may be stealing water," says Troy Hayes.

“When they’re hooking up directly with a hose, that’s something that’s a little off and it shows they may be stealing water," says Troy Hayes.

“When they’re hooking up directly with a hose, that’s something that’s a little off and it shows they may be stealing water,” says Troy Hayes.

Alert central Phoenix homeowners noticed something suspicious and snapped a quick pic. When they sent it off to the local news it launched an investigation with some surprising twists and turns. Most would never think twice about a construction truck hooking up to a hydrant near the street but the equipment they were using seemed just a little odd.

They were right to alert officials, says water company spokesman Troy Hayes. “When they’re hooking up directly with a hose, that’s something that’s a little off and it shows they may be stealing water.

The sign on the door panel read E&J Construction LLC. Parked beside the hydrant on 14th street near Rancho Drive, hundreds of gallons of water were being sucked into a tank.

When local ABC15 news hounds investigated, E&J said it wasn’t them. Some independent entrepreneur calling herself “Grace” spoofed up some decals and started using their name. She even turns up in web searches as an owner of the company. The real owners have their own detectives on the case to clear their name.

Hundreds of gallons of water were being sucked into a tank.

Hundreds of gallons of water were being sucked into a tank.

The reporters next reached out to city water official Troy Hayes. He confirmed that some companies have permits to take water from hydrants but this truck didn’t have one. “What we can tell off the number from the side is that they don’t have a permit to be taking water from a city of Phoenix fire hydrant.” The ones that are allowed to hook in have special meters to track and bill the usage.

Water does get stolen, says Hayes. The cost gets passed along to the consumers. “In the end, it’s stealing from our ratepayers.” When the city finally catches up to Grace, she is looking at felony theft charges.

A few miles away to the west, near 15th Avenue and Thomas Road, Robin Thompson is one of those ratepayers. Every once in a while she would hear water running in her pipes but didn’t really pay much attention. Her water bills started creeping up. When one came in at $200, she started paying close attention to the sound of her pipes.

Outlying areas rely on water that is trucked-in. Permits to tap Phoenix hydrants are about to go away.

Outlying areas rely on water that is trucked-in. Permits to tap Phoenix hydrants are about to go away.

Deputy Water Services Director Jim Swanson says “it may sound strange but people do steal water from homes. It’s personal property theft. You’re actually stealing from the homeowner.” His department gets calls all the time. “It’s generally theft from neighbor to neighbor,” he notes. Not in the case of Robin Thompson.

“It was around 5 in the morning when I heard the faucet go on,” Thompson relates. Outside “there was a work truck parked in front of my house and my hose was pumping water into the back of it.” When the banditos saw her watching, “they threw the hose back in the yard and they screamed and drove off.” Special locks set her back about $15 bucks and her bill soon recovered.

Ashley Kasprowicz just moved in. When her first water bill came in she thought it was a mistake. She was billed for the equivalent of filling a swimming pool 16 times. The 244,000 gallons of water the city said she used was billed at $1,700 dollars. They checked her meter and verified it was working and suggested she get an irrigation timer. Ashley was likely the victim of a water thief. “Literally unless I can actually prove that I didn’t actually consume or use that water, that burden of proof falls on me and I’m gonna be responsible for paying the full water bill,” Kasprowicz fumed.

Arizona has a looming crisis on its hands, and some communities are finding it out sooner than others.

Arizona has a looming crisis on its hands, and some communities are finding it out sooner than others.

Phoenix sprawls across the northeastern Sonoran Desert and gets water from a system of reservoir lakes. Most comes from the Colorado River, diverted through miles and miles of Central Arizona Project canal. While the city and its surrounding metro area have a reliable supply of municipal water, the outlying areas are a totally different story.

Water in rural Arizona is a precious commodity. The small communities of Desert Hills and New River lie just to the North of Phoenix along major traffic artery I-17. Residents there rely on private wells and water tanks. As urban sprawl continues to extend the urban fringes the demand is outpacing the supply. The underground river called an “aquifer” is drying up. “Arizona has a looming crisis on its hands, and some communities are finding it out sooner than others,” activist Julie Elliott insists.

Currently, some of the permits permitting Phoenix hydrants to be tapped are going to water hauling companies that supply the area but their days are numbered. Phoenix plans to cut off the supply December 31.

Stephanie Bracken lays out the position of the city. “Delivering water to residential communities outside of city service areas is not an authorized use of this permit. These communities do not have customer accounts, do not pay service and environmental charges, and are not directly billed by the City.”

Self Service water-hauling station in Wittmann, AZ

Self Service water-hauling station in Wittmann, AZ

Wells are tricky and expensive propositions. Finding water isn’t easy and getting to it a lot harder. Costing thousands of dollars to drill, there are no guarantees water will come forth. New River resident Stephen Richards and his mother live on a fixed income. They have a well but it quit working when the water table dropped. “It’s no longer producing enough water for me to actually live here and use it,” Richards says. Now they have a tank. There are nearly 1,500 homes in the area that rely on water that is trucked-in.

If the posh neighboring town of Anthem grants a proposal that would allow a water-hauling station to be built on land under their control, it will go a long way to easing tensions.