By CLINT FOSTER
The Mineral Wells Police Department arrested a local man last week with a warrant for criminal mischief impairment/interruption of a public service after he allegedly tampered with his water meter back in October.
Thirty-five-year-old Christopher N. Russell became the latest casualty in the City of Mineral Wells' concerted effort to crack down on utility theft, especially water, when the MWPD showed up at his home in the 1400 block of SE 8th Street on the afternoon of Dec. 31.
The warrant and subsequent arrest stemmed from an incident on Oct. 21 when police rolled on this same residence in regards to a water theft complaint.
According to the MWPD case narrative, at that time police met with a member of the Mineral Wells Water Department who was reading the water meter, as part of a routine inspection, and found that it showed zero consumption. Police said under the meter cover, the Water Department found that the water meter had been disconnected and was laying loose inside with a different meter of unknown origin in its place. Although it was not connected to the pipe, police said the City's meter was still connected to the electronic monitoring system, which allowed it to be read.
Both meters were removed and replaced with a new one and police began an investigation to find out who tampered with it in the first place – as the only resident home knew nothing about it.
The Index has reported on water thefts before. In another incident in October, MWPD assisted the City's Code Enforcement and Inspections Department with a particularly creative water theft. At this particular property, when they removed the utility access cover, police discovered unknown subjects had manufactured a water-tap bypass of sorts connecting the city’s main line to the feed line that went inside the house. It was a rigged combination of duct tape, two faucet heads and various other pipes and, even, welding.
Mineral Wells Finance Director John Moran has led the charge to crack down on these types of thefts since he first started working for the City of Mineral Wells just over a year ago. He told the Index Mineral Wells deals with more water thefts per capita than any other city he has worked in, and he is determined to change that, not only for the City, but for the welfare of all citizens.
"When people steal water, they don't realize they're stealing from the whole community," he said. "They're not necessarily stealing from 'the City,' they're stealing from the citizens. Water is a community asset.
"They also put the whole water system at risk. In [Russell's] case, he took the water meter off. If anybody goes out and monkeys with the water system, they're exposing it to contaminants. If there's water in the vault where the water meter is, it can back-sifon into the system and contaminate it. It's really a bigger deal than people realize at the surface. Ground water can be contaminated with who knows what, and if that gets back into the water system, that's what you and I drink.
"Since I've been here, we've really been making a concerted effort to involve the police when we find these water thefts, because it's such a big deal. We want to protect the integrity of the water system."