West Virginia American Water cracking down to stop water theft

West Virginia American Water employee David Cook shuts off a water line that has been tampered with to steal water. (WCHS/WVAH)

West Virginia American Water is now taking steps to crack down on water service theft.

The water company said some people tamper with equipment to get water, without paying, and many, do it more than once even after they've been caught.

The company said some of these people also harass or threaten their employees too.

West Virginia American Water said they are tired of it and they plan to get law enforcement involved when it's necessary.

On Thursday, West Virginia American Water crews shut off a water line that had been tampered with on Allens Fork Road in Sissonville and those who did it are accused of stealing water.

Laura Martin, External Affairs Manager with West Virginia American Water, said in the past they shut off the water at the property because bills weren't being paid.

"In this particular situation, we have a customer that has repeated offenses that we have documented and the customer owes over $1,200,” Martin said.

David Cook, a field service representative with West Virginia American Water, said the owner of the home ended up stealing a water meter and put it in place to obtain water, without paying.

And then, just a week later, he found them stealing water again, this time they put their own pipes in place to reach the service line and bypass a water meter.

"Just came by again today to check and make sure they hadn't decided to steal water again and sure enough they started doing more theft,” Cook said,

This time, the water company decided to get law enforcement involved. A Kanawha County deputy plans to write a summons and the owner can turn himself in or a warrant could be written. The owner could face a charge for stealing utility services, which is procuring gas, water, or electricity by device with intent to defraud. It can end with up to 12 months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

WV American Water taking steps like this, to remind customers that unauthorized use of utility services, tampering with utility equipment and assaulting utility workers are crimes.

It’s an ongoing issue that can be frustrating for employees like cook who has worked with the company for 25 years.

"It just gets frustrating when it’s over and over the same people and a lot of the times its people you really don't expect to be doing it,” Cook said,

In another recent incident, a worker in Huntington was threatened by a resident when trying to shut off the water with an illegal water service connection.

"We're not tolerating this, we are cracking down on incidences of theft or absolutely will not tolerate any customers or members of the public that put our workers at risk,” Martin said.

Cook said company employees are no longer just going to take away the stolen meters.

"We're not just going to come out and take your stolen meter away and not say anything to you, you're going to be questioned and possibly prosecuted for stealing services,’ Cook said.

The company asks if you're aware of any customers stealing water, report them to the company at 1-800-685-8660.

Martin said when people steal services, it cost other customers.

The company also wants people to know when theft and tampering occur all customers must pay the costs associated with lost water and replacing broken or stolen equipment.

She also said if there's a customer that's been obtaining water illegally, the best thing to do right now is call their customer service line, get set up as a customer and they'll work with them to pay off any past due balance.

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