Another police report from New South Wales (NSW) in Australia underscores just how desperate the drought conditions have become: people are stealing water, lots of it, and they’re even taking it from firefighters battling the region’s severe wildfires.
Last week, the NSW police said someone with a water tanker and a Toyota Hilux pickup truck pulled up to a local municipal facility in Murwillumbah and stole about 25,000 liters (6,604 gallons) of drinking water. The community in the far northeast part of the state is much closer to Brisbane than coastal Sydney, where millions of people have been choking on thick smoke from the raging fires.
Detective Chief Inspector Luke Arthurs said the act of stealing water during a time of hardship for much of New South Wales is shocking. In the Tweed-Byron police district where the theft occurred, “every catchment area and LGA (local government area) are in drought – and this kind of theft is not acceptable.”
It’s not the only time that water theft happened in recent weeks in the parched region. The Woodhill Rural Fire Brigade, some 75 kilometers to the north of Murwillumbah, reported the same thing happening to water reserves at their fire station. No one was there because they were out fighting the massive blazes fueled by drought in the nation’s east, and when they came back water was gone.
“This water refills our trucks late at night to ensure they are ready to respond again at a moment’s notice,” the fire company said in a post directed at the culprits. “Your theft of thousands of liters of water now means our volunteer firefighters, after long days and nights at fires, have to travel significantly further and spend more time filling trucks before they can return to their families.”
People have offered to help Woodhill but the fire department simply asked that if houses have water to share with firefighters, they should mark their homes with a reflective blue disk so the crews know they can access it. “This could be tanks, dams or even a pool. So long as a truck can gain access to it we can use it,” the fire department added. “With water being in short supply lately and a lot of our area not having readily accessible fire hydrants this is a huge help to us.”
One fire department member, speaking with Australia’s ABC news, said the water theft was a sign of desperation and “dire need.” The regional water utility says 98 percent of New South Wales is affected by drought; some locations have seen no meaningful rainfall since 2016, WaterNSW adds.
Their latest water report for Greater Sydney, released Thursday, warns that there’s only a one-in-three chance in the next three months of the kind of above-average rainfall that’s needed to improve dam-storage conditions. “Sydney is experiencing its longest sustained depletion on record (without recovery), with the lowest inflows ever on record,” said WaterNSW. “These have combined to see the rate of depletion being the fastest on record.”
Meanwhile, temperatures are forecast to soar at what is still just the start of Australia’s summer, with no significant rain on the horizon, placing more pressure on scarce water resources.