OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma has had 24 days of triple digit heat and many communities around the state are asking residents to ration water use.
KFOR News 4 has confirmed an OKC Utilities Department investigation into an alleged water bandit in far western Oklahoma City.
The scene of the violation is a neighborhood near Memorial and Frisco Road in Canadian County. An accused thief potentially stole millions of gallons of city water to fill a neighborhood pond.
Most counties in Oklahoma are in extreme drought and dozens of communities have temporary or permanent watering restrictions in place.
“We almost always see drought conditions and a need for water restrictions or water rationing during (summer) months,” said DEQ Water Quality Division Director, Shellie Chard. “If we continue to have this kind of heat and lack of rain we will see more and more communities add restrictions.”
Earlier this year, an OKC Utilities Department inspector was checking on a tin horn when she spotted something suspicious in a new construction neighborhood on the far west side of Oklahoma City.
The Lakes at Timber Ridge is a sprawling community of luxury, acreage homes in Canadian County. According to city permits, the developers started building a few years ago.
“Anytime you use city water, you have to pay for the water because all of our other customers are paying for the water,” said Utilities Department spokesperson, Michelann Ooten.
Ooten confirms a city meter reader stumbled onto an unauthorized waterline tap.
The municipal investigation shows the hook-up bleeds treated water from the city supply and dumps it into the neighborhood pond.
“They actually made a tap into the line and added another line,” said Ooten. “So, seemingly they knew what they were doing.”
The city is working to determine the amount of city water stolen from the system.
According to the meter reader who discovered the tap, the water theft may have occurred over two years. She estimated 35 million gallons of water.
If an Oklahoma City utilities residential customer used 35 million gallons of treated city water, the bill would be $706,300.
Keep in mind, drinking water isn’t allowed to be fed into natural bodies of water, like the drainage pond at Timber Ridge. Chlorinated water kills fish.
The city of Oklahoma City confirms, there was no request for permission to use city water. Furthermore, such a request would not have been granted, because treated water would never be permitted to be dumped into a drainage pond.
According to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) it’s an environmental hazard and an unnecessary risk to the city water supply.
“We look at it from a public health protection standpoint,” Chard said. “Anyone tapping into a waterline can affect the water quality for everyone who is served by that water system. You could back-siphon a surface water contaminant into the drinking water system. We definitely don’t want to see that.”
Stealing city water by tapping into a waterline puts this neighborhood and others at risk for contaminated drinking water.
Attorney Scott Adams represents the developers. The city put the company on notice this summer, threatening criminal charges. So far, the case is being handled by the city attorneys’ office.
“It was just as much of a surprise to them as it was everyone else,” Adams said. “The day we found out that there was something going on out there, we immediately tried to address it and make sure it never happens again.”
The development company is fully cooperating with the city investigation.
“Whatever the city wants us to do in the future to make sure something like this doesn’t happen or we’re 100% in,” Adams said.
One of the developers lives in the neighborhood and he owns a home on the water, right next to the illegal tap.
“We didn’t have anything to do with it, and we’re just trying we’re trying to be responsible community members and make sure that stuff like this doesn’t happen either now or in the future,” said Adams.
News 4 has confirmed the unauthorized plumbing is still in the ground, but the tap is no longer in use. It seems this water bandit is no longer stealing from the residents of Oklahoma City.
According to the Canadian County District Attorney’s office, the city never brought over any criminal charges to consider.
If you suspect water theft in Oklahoma City, you can call utilities customer service at (405) 297-2833.