New Paltz turns up the pressure on water thieves

New Paltz village trustees want to send a clear message that stealing is bad, especially when stealing water from fire hydrants. To do so, they have set a $2,000 fine for anyone caught tapping into a hydrant without authorization.

Last year, an employee for a construction company was caught doing this very thing, but the district attorney decided not to prosecute because the value of the stolen water was not especially large and laws like this are narrowly defined around monetary sums. That didn’t sit well with Mayor Tim Rogers, because opening and closing a hydrant without proper training can cause a “water hammer” to spike pressure in the system, which could lead to extensive damage requiring expensive repairs. What’s more, this theft took place during the cold months, when hydrants have been winterized and left in a dry state. Any time a firefighter or public works employee opens a hydrant in the winter it’s logged, because it must be winterized again. Otherwise, the water left inside will likely freeze and cause damage in that way, which might only be discovered when that hydrant is needed to obtain water for fighting a fire. Property and lives could be at risk.

Rogers initially suggested a million dollars with a straight face, but trustees took that as intended to drive home the seriousness of the issue.

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Trustee William Wheeler Murray tried to zero in on what the cost of the damage might be, but that depends on far too many factors to pin down. “$2,000 might deter someone, but I don’t think people understand the consequences,” Murray said.

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