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Modesto Homeowners Decry Public Shaming, Fines From Water District Over Alleged Water Theft

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Leigh Martinez Leigh Martinez
Leigh Martinez is the multimedia journalist covering the San Joaquin...
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MODESTO (CBS13) — Modesto homeowners got an attorney to fight the fine and save their reputations after the Modesto Irrigation District publicly accused them of stealing water.

Casey and Diane Johnson have a small garden on their Garst Road property, but the small patch of land recently cost the couple $1,500 and something they say is even more valuable.

“I’ve spent 31 years developing this reputation to have it completely tarnished in one stroke of a pen,” said Casey Johnson, who works as a CPA.

On August 13, the Johnsons and their neighbors were fined and accused of stealing water from the Empire Canal behind their homes. Neighbor Chester Hammonds told CBS13 he never even used the siphon line found on his yard, but Johnson admits he used his line.

“We actually used the line. We used the line on the days we were prescribed to use it,” said Johnson.

The Johnsons said they pay the Modesto Irrigation District yearly to irrigate two acres, but only use a third of the water they purchase. When they bought the house eight years ago, Johnson said the previous owner and their Century 21 realtor told them to use the gravity flow hose on the property as a way to conserve water.

In 2012, Johnson said an irrigation district employee questioned the pipe.

“He was going to go check with his supervisor if the line may or may not have to come out,” said Johnson. “That was two years ago and we’ve never heard another word since.”

Johnson also claims MID came out to repair a leak at the canal a few years back and physically touched the line.

“The MID employee went into the canal, lifted this irrigation pipe out of the canal, setting it on the bank so they could properly repair the lining,” said Johnson. “When they were done repairing the lining, they were kind enough to lift the pipe back into the water.”

Johnson said the $1,500 fine arrived without warning.

“We were in absolute disbelief,” said Johnson. “No one from MID said we were doing anything wrong. They drive two or three times [on the canal] every single day. The pipe was clearly in the canal 365 days of the year and hung there for everyone to see.”

Johnson hired an attorney and public relations firm after he said he was publicly shamed on MID’s website and in the Modesto Bee. His attorney sent a letter to MID stating the Johnsons’ claim.

“Modesto Irrigation District’s board of directors asked customers to write letters in response to the unauthorized water use, detailing what they thought the situation was,” said Modesto Irrigation District spokesperson Melissa Williams. “MID is in the process of reviewing that letter. On September 9th at our next board meeting, our board will further consider the matter, if necessary.”

Johnson said he hopes to have his fine revoked, his water rights restored, and a public apology. MID said it received Johnson’s letter yesterday and could not immediately confirm any of the allegations mentioned in Johnson’s letter.

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