Zhengzhou, China — (METERING.COM) — March 30, 2009 – Local authorities in central China’s Henan province are stepping up action against the theft of water from public facilities and residential lines, or “water mice” as such people are known in China.

A man who ran a car wash was fined last week after pleading guilty to charges of water theft and meter tampering in the province. Wang Guang, 36, of the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, removed his water meter and stole water from a nearby community over a period of five months, the court said. The value of the stolen water was estimated at 1,021 yuan (US$149), and a fine of 2,000 yuan (US$293) was imposed.

Water prices vary substantially between residential and business customers in many Chinese cities. These differences often prompt water intensive businesses, such as car washes and bath houses, to tap into residential lines. Others go for public tanks and outlets.

Water stolen from public tanks and outlets exceeded 30 million tonnes a year in Zhengzhou, according to Zhang Kexin, manager of the Zhengzhou City Water Company.

Over the past 18 months, Zhengzhou has imposed 5.2 million yuan (US$0.76 million) in fines and implicated 26 suspects in water theft, of whom five have been prosecuted.

Some 20 cities, including Tianjin and Dalian, across China have also cracked down on water theft.