I'm been watching this thread for a while but I still can't get my mind around someone taking someones cached water, much less only 5 miles from another source. I can't get my head around a hiker with ANY kind of experience doing this, so I imagine it to be someone too inexperienced as well as selfish to know better. Still, from the details of the location it sounds like this might not have been the case. << Head explodes>> ...
Still, all cachers worry (or should) about this issue *all* the time. If a pre-placed water supply is life or death I'm not sure how it got found so casually. What ever happened to the long and noble tradition of hiding cashes - or at least placing them where no one passing by will be casually tempted? IMHO, you should always assume the worst case scenario in spite of logic as to location - that someone hiking by doesn't know any better. We have a very tight knit, but actually very small community here where we all know the rules, and are all outraged. But I don't think it should be obvious that any cache lying out in the open is not at extreme risk, especially if "marked" only means the word "BALLS" printed on the cache.
In addition to hiding - away from the trail and inside a bush somewhere, but especially paranoid folks have been known to bury cashes of water - it seems like a note such as the following should be placed (I always thought is was pro forma in such cases):
"This water was placed here by Balls and his daughter who will be passing this way on a thru hike some time near the end of April 2013. Please do not take any of it as they are *depending* on it to be here for their safety."
Yes, I know it is like talking to infants, and that it should not be necessary. But some idiot who saw water on the side of the trail with only the word "BALLS" on the bottle might need it spelled out. As I said, assume the worst case scenario. Wars have been started for misunderstood inter-tribal conventions. Assume complete novices as worst case scenario. By writing the note (who the hell carries a sharpie with them on the trail LOL) the thieves showed they were unsure, and these particular thieves might have wavered if it has been spelled out in full idiot-proof form. Also, though I would NEVER actually advocate such explicit instructions (better not to give then an easy excuse they could later renege on), the date and urgency written on the bottle might have further encouraged the violator to come back with a replacement and a nice gift.
In this case I don't know if the old-school "conventional" hiding part or message part was in fact followed in this case (it is not mentioned in the original blog post), but I'd be a lot more outraged if I knew it was. Only then would I get out my flaming brand and pitchfork.