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Modesto Homeowners Accused Of Stealing Water From Canal, Face $1,500 Fines

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Leigh Martinez Leigh Martinez
Leigh Martinez is the multimedia journalist covering the San Joaquin...
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MODESTO (CBS13) —  Six Modesto homeowners face $1,500 fines for stealing water from the Empire Canal behind their homes. The Modesto Irrigation District said it discovered illegal siphons at the homes of five neighbors and one woman started pumping more water after her allocated share ran out.

A ditch tender noticed illegal siphons on five neighbors’ properties on Garst Road in East Modesto.

The MID said it needs to crack down hard, because of the drought, but several homeowners are fighting back, claiming they never stole water.

Homeowner Chester Hammonds irrigates one acre to feed two miniature ponies.

“The horses are 30 inches tall so, they don’t eat much,” said Hammonds, who received a $1,500 fine. “Here’s a $1,500 fine levied on you and you’re called a thief and a liar.”

Hammonds and his wife Carole moved into their country home from Ceres two years ago and said the siphon pipe was already there.

“Now I’m getting fined, because my wife wants to live in the country,” said Hammonds.

MID dug up the siphons.

“What they did was put their own line and divert their own line into the canal that’s not monitored,” said MID director Jake Wenger, who said it’s impossible to find out how much water was taken out. “It allows them to take water any time they wish without consulting with anyone at the district.”

Hammonds said he pays yearly for water and doesn’t use most of it. He said the siphon leading from his property into the canal was never turned on.

“I don’t know how it hooked into the canal,” said Hammonds. “I’ve never been out there to find out. I don’t know.”

Neighbor Alan George was also fined for siphoning water.

“All of the neighbors on this side, they had a small pipe from the canal to there,” said George. “For years, nobody said anything. All of a sudden they yanked them out and that’s it.”

George’s rental property is also being investigated for siphoning water for an illegal marijuana grow. MID called the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office when it said it discovered the line. George denies any illegal activity on his properties.

“There’s no such thing here, nothing,” said George. “We don’t do anything illegal around here.”

The MID said it cut water allocations by 43 percent this year, but it’s being flexible with its customers by allowing unused water to be sold back to the district or sold to other farmers.

“If anyone had extra, they could put it back in the system; if anyone needed some, they could get it out,” said Wegner.

All water sales have to be approved by the MID.

Several homeowners appealed their fines at the MID board meeting Tuesday morning. The MID said it will review each case and decide if the fine will stand.

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