With guilty builders getting off with penalties of no more than $4,800, officials are considering tougher punishment None of the eight construction companies caught stealing government water last year was fined more than $4,800. The government lost 11.8 million litres - enough to fill 12 Olympic-size swimming pools - through such thefts last year. Stealing government water - for instance from fire hydrants or unauthorised pipe connections - carries a maximum penalty of just $5,000. The Water Supplies Department said it was carrying out a review to decide whether this was enough to deter offenders. The Department of Justice and the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau will be consulted about the issue, said Kam Wing-kee, the senior engineer heading a Water Supplies unit responsible for investigating and prosecuting such misuse. But at the moment there are no plans to introduce jail sentences for the offence unless the review shows it is necessary, he said. According to department figures, eight contractors were convicted of taking water illegally last year. Construction industry insiders say large quantities of water are used to test for leaks in buildings, mix cement and wash floors and outer walls. Mr Kam said some contractors caught stealing government water were repeat offenders. Other cases involved construction workers taking water from the nearest fire hydrant instead of proper sources because of convenience, he said. Last year eight contractors were convicted of illegally taking water for building sites in North Point, Sheung Wan, Shamshuipo, Cheung Sha Wan, Sheung Shui and Yuen Long. They were fined between $500 and $4,800. He said many people committed the offence out of convenience - such as taking water from fire hoses to wash cars instead carrying buckets of water from home - and most would apply for a meter after being caught. Mr Kam said that sometimes it took about half a dozen surveillance operations to catch offenders. Investigations were launched after tip-offs from the public, leads gathered from routine meter inspections or from cases referred by other government departments. Sometimes department personnel have to play detective and interview people such as security guards to gather enough evidence to take offenders to court. Last year, nine individuals were caught taking water from fire-service installations for washing, while 46 were caught taking unmetered water from pipes or government mains. They were fined between $500 and $4,200. Courts handed out fines totalling $118,250 to the individuals and companies caught. The department also charged them a total of $54,339 for the water stolen.