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SWA charges business with rigging hookup for free water

A Dickinson area business receiving services from Southwest Water Authority rigged a hookup to receive free water and the organization's Board of Directors is not happy about it.

"This is more than system tampering," said SWA CEO Mary Massad at the board's monthly meeting at Elks Lodge Monday morning. "This is illegal theft of services and it's tampering with a public water system, which would violate the Safe Drinking Water Act."

Massad declined to offer the name of what she described as a mid-sized business during and after the meeting, but it was clear that the offense struck a chord with a number of board members.

"I think this is very serious," said board member George Saxowsky. "If it were up to me, I'd give them a fine and disconnect them forever. If that line would have been polluted, we would have had to shut the system down and clean all the lines. This could have been a disaster."

Likening the act to pirating cable TV service, Massad said the guilty party tapped a second water supply upstream of their meter without SWA's knowledge or consent, potentially causing the contamination of drinking water for thousands of western North Dakotans.

"We don't know there was backflow prevention or if the line they used was disinfected before they hooked it up," Massad said. "We serve over 50,000 customers in southwest North Dakota. This is a health issue."

Massad told the board the breach was discovered recently when a representative of the business called the SWA offices to inquire about water pressure issues, effectively incriminating it. Massad -- who said it was the first time the organization had been faced with such an issue, but worried that similar cases could be out there -- proposed a fine of $1,000 for a residential customer engaging in such acts and $5,000 for businesses.

"The punishment should be immediate and there should be no second chance," said board member Darrel Oech. "A thousand dollars is nothing to someone who's doing that. If they're denied water and you make that stick, that's more appropriate in my mind. Don't give them any more water. This is serious business and we should treat it that way."

Massad -- who said no water was in fact contaminated the discovery -- added that water service for the business in question was shut off once the transgression was discovered. After discussion the issue at length, the board agreed to leave the punishment for breach of service up to Massad.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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