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San Diego Airport Contractor Used City Water From Hydrants Without Authorization

Photo credit: Flickr / Alan Harper

A plane is pictured at Brown Field, Feb. 21, 2013.

A contractor at the two airports operated by the city of San Diego used water from fire hydrants without authorization for several years after city staff failed to enforce municipal code requirements, the city auditor's office reported on Thursday.

The unnamed vendor took water from fire hydrants at Brown Field and Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport without using a meter or reimbursing the city, according to the report. Both are required by the municipal code, but the auditors reported that Airports Division staff never enforced the provisions.

The requirements are standard in city construction contracts but weren't included in the vendor's agreement, nor an invitation that's out for companies to bid on a new contract for the same unspecified service, the auditors said.

After city staff said the practice could have lasted as long as 10 years, the auditors calculated the financial loss to be $44,000.

San Diego's municipal code makes it unlawful to use a fire hydrant for purposes other than extinguishing a fire without prior authorization and installation of a fire hydrant meter, and requires the user to be billed at applicable rates.

The auditors recommended that the city's Public Utilities Department conduct an investigation into whether an administrative citation or warning is warranted, and whether the city should recover its costs from the vendor.

The report also recommended that Public Utilities provide updated instructions regarding fire hydrant policies to city departments, and that the Airports Division add the hydrants requirements to the new contract or otherwise address payment for use of city water.

City management agreed to all four recommendations.

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