NORFOLK -- Hampton Roads cities are turning off the faucet on water thieves.

Looking at the number of cases alone, it doesn't look all that bad.

In 2013, Virginia Beach saw 13 cases of water theft; Norfolk saw 41; and Chesapeake saw 21.

City officials say these numbers don't tell the whole story of just how serious the problem is.

Bob Montague, Business Manager of Virginia Beach Public Works, said people often build their own pipe into where the old meter used to be.

Meters are removed when people don't pay their water bill for an extended amount of time, and connecting your own direct line isn't easy.

'Someone needs to be handy. Someone with a moderate knowledge of plumbing can install a straight connection,' noted Montague.

Virginia Beach's public works director says they rely on alert neighbors to report suspicious activity, as well as a team of meter readers, who go out every two months to look for irregularities.

'We take them very seriously because if left unchecked and there's a significant amount of water that's being taken, then ultimately those costs are going to be passed along to the customer base,' Montague said.

If caught stealing city water, offenders face up to five years behind bars.

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