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After contractors allegedly steal Carroll County water, officials warn of damage to fire hydrants

A hose is connected to a fire hydrant to help douse hotspots after a fire in Perryville.
A hose is connected to a fire hydrant to help douse hotspots after a fire in Perryville. (Matt Button / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After some residents spotted people stealing water from fire hydrants, Carroll County officials are warning that the thefts could damage the hydrants beyond use.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office reported an uptick in water thefts and warned citizens against such action in a June 5 news release. Andrew Watcher, utilities bureau chief for the Carroll County Bureau of Utilities, said in a Wednesday interview that residents in the Freedom District, where the county provides water in the Eldersburg and Sykesville area, noticed people taking water from hydrants and reported the activity.

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“Most incidents occur on lightly traveled, residential roadways,” Watcher said.

Most of the offenders appear to have been “small-time landscape operators” who helped themselves to water from the hydrants, Watcher said. This presents two problems: theft and damage.

Some hydrants were damaged by the “hammering impact of shutting the hydrant off abruptly rather than gradually,” Watcher said. The hydrants are still operational, but if one is damaged beyond repair it would cost about $1,500 to replace, he said. Watcher fears a fire department could struggle to connect a hose properly to a damaged hydrant.

There are about 800 to 1,000 hydrants in the Freedom District, according to Watcher. He did not know how many were affected, but said people took a “minimal” amount of water.

The water comes from Liberty Reservoir after being processed at the Freedom District Water Treatment Plant on Oakland Road, Watcher said.

A bulk water facility is available for contractors to use at the Linton Water Tank across from Century High School, according to Watcher. The facility opened about six months ago, he said.

“Fire hydrants should not be used as the source of water for contractors,” Watcher said.

There are printed messages on the hydrants reminding citizens that water theft is illegal, Watcher said.

Stealing water from hydrants does not affect residents’ water bills, Watcher said.

A few offenders were caught in the act, Watcher said, and they may face civil penalties and/or criminal charges. Tampering with water meters is also theft, the Sheriff’s Office said in its news release.

Suspected water theft can be reported to the Sheriff’s Office at 410-386-5900.

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