Report Potential Water Theft

Unauthorized use of water from hydrants can contaminate or damage the water system

Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Image of hydrant with orange box housing meter and backflow preventer
Individuals or businesses who pay to use town water will fill tanks through fire hydrants with an orange box attached. The box contains a meter and a backflow preventer to keep contaminants out of the water supply.

The Town of Hillsborough has seen a recent increase in water theft from fire hydrants.

If you see a person or business taking water from a fire hydrant without a large orange meter box attached to it, please call 911 to report it.

“Reporting a false alarm is better than letting folks compromise the system and not pay for water as our customers do,” Hillsborough Utilities Director Marie Strandwitz said.

Water theft can cause safety and operational concerns for the public water system including:

  • A surge in pressure that breaks pipes and damages equipment.
  • Contaminants entering the public water system, causing a public health issue.
  • Lowered water pressure for customers during the time of theft.
  • Costs associated with repairing damage to the system.
  • Lost revenue to the town that is incorporated into customer rates.

Theft instances

In at least five instances during the past month, contractors working in the area have been caught taking water from hydrants. Not all incidents involved fiber contractors. The thefts occurred in these areas:

  • Behind Walmart Supercenter at Hampton Pointe
  • At the end of Cornerstone Court
  • On Ellsworth Manor Drive
  • At the intersection of Prestwood Drive and Spring Overlook Lane
  • Near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Mountain View Court

“When contractors fill their trucks directly from a fire hydrant, they are not billed for that water and effectively are stealing it,” Environmental Engineering Supervisor Bryant Green said.

In many of the cases, concerned residents called the town to report a theft. Thefts have been occurring at roadsides and in remote hydrant locations behind buildings.

What happens when someone is caught? Town code specifies a first-time violator receives a $500 administrative fee and a $3,000 civil penalty. Any future offenses bring a doubled penalty.

“Although this seems to be a steep figure, it unfortunately does not appear to be a deterrent for many,” Strandwitz said. “We appreciate the community’s vigilance in helping report such violators.”

Bulk water

How can contractors get water? They can:

  • Obtain bulk water from the town’s water treatment plant at 711 Dimmocks Mill Road by paying first at the Financial Services Department in the Town Hall Annex, 105 E. Corbin St. The billing and collections office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
  • Rent a hydrant meter box. The orange boxes have a backflow preventer to ensure contaminants do not enter the public water system and a meter to measure the water usage for proper billing. The hydrant meter rental form is available on the Water and Sewer Services page of the town’s website. Rental requires a deposit and rental rates, and usage fees apply.

Reporting a theft?

If you are not comfortable calling law enforcement about suspected water theft, you may call the Hillsborough Water Treatment Plant at 919-732-3621 at any hour.

Discreetly taking a photo and noting details of a potential water theft can help the town prosecute a case. Helpful details include the time, date, location, name on the truck, truck number and license plate. Please do not directly confront anyone taking water.

Photos and information can be submitted to the Hillsborough Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office or Hillsborough’s utilities director by email.