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MODESTO - The Modesto Irrigation District website now includes the names of people caught stealing water from one of the many canals operated by the district. Six names were recently added, most of them residents of the town of Empire.

"The whole idea is to stop water theft. If people serve themselves, by connecting hoses, that takes away from everyone else operating in the right way," District General Manager Roger VanHoy said.

VanHoy said a district employee discovered pipes, pumps and hoses while patrolling on a canal bank. He also said customers have received plenty of notice the district would start enforcing new rules and penalties for water theft.

"If you choose to steal, or have an illegal connection, you'll be posted (online)," VanHoy said.

But one of the people named as a thief isn't happy about that announcement, or even agreeing he was doing anything wrong.

"That pipe was here when we moved in. The real estate person said 'this is part of your irrigation,'" Chester Hammonds said. "I think it's a bunch of baloney, but they're doing what they think they ought to."

Hammonds and five other homeowners are facing $1,500 fines. He said he's appealing the fine and hinted of legal retaliation.

"I'm not wrong and once it's settled, it'll be settled," Hammonds said.

The Modesto Irrigation District serves about 3,000 farmers with irrigation water and Modesto residents with household water.

The alleged thieves were using the water for grass and gardens.

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