Ventura County farmer and former water board member pleads guilty to water theft

A Ventura County farmer and former board member of a local water agency has pleaded guilty to one felony count of grand theft of water.

Daniel Conklin Naumann, who owns and operates Naumann Family Farms in Oxnard, pumped groundwater worth $29,301 between 2019 and 2021 without paying the required fees to the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency, according to a news release from the Ventura County district attorney.

Naumann was a longtime elected board member of the United Water Conservation District and an alternate board member of the Fox Canyon agency. He resigned from the United district this month.

Investigators from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office discovered that diversion bypasses were installed on two commercial water pumps that irrigated Naumann’s crops, according to the district attorney. The bypasses diverted pumped water to irrigation lines before it reached the flow meters that measure usage for billing purposes.

“Stealing water is a serious crime,” Dist. Atty. Erik Nasarenko said in a written statement. “This felony conviction holds the defendant accountable for his conduct and sends a clear message that evading fees and illegally diverting water will result in criminal consequences.”

The district attorney’s office announced in August that it had filed charges against Naumann for felony counts of grand theft and theft of utility services.

Mark Pachowicz, an attorney representing Naumann, declined to comment.

The Naumanns are considered farming pioneers in Ventura County. The family emigrated from Germany and settled in the Oxnard area in the late 1800s, farming sugar beets and lima beans before moving into citrus, then row crops.

The county's agricultural industry was valued at more than $2.1 billion in 2022, according to the agricultural commissioner.

Naumann described the importance of water management in the region in a 2017 video posted on YouTube by the United Water Conservation District.

“You need to have water, we need to capture it, use it wisely, several times over, whether it’s recycled water, whether it’s desalters, whether it’s irrigation water reused,” he said. “Everyone realizes how precious a resource and asset it is, and without that, our life is going to change tremendously.”

Naumann is scheduled to be sentenced May 24. He was released on his own recognizance.

He is expected to be sentenced to 30 days in Ventura County Jail, ordered to pay full restitution and placed on probation for two years, according to the district attorney.

The remaining felony counts are expected to be dismissed at sentencing.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.