Pubdate: Mon, 02 Jun 2014
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Note: Accepts letters to the editor from Arkansas residents only
Author: Jason Dearen, the Associated Press
Page: 2A


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Some drought-stricken rivers and streams in 
Northern California's coastal forests are being polluted and sucked 
dry by medical marijuana farms, wildlife officials say - an issue 
that has prompted at least one county to try to outlaw personal 
grows. AP This May 2013 photo released by the California Department 
of Fish and Wildlife shows a diver conducting an underwater survey to 
count young salmon and steelhead fish in a tributary to the South 
Fork Eel River in Humboldt County, Calif.

State fish and wildlife officials say much of the marijuana being 
grown in northern counties under the state's medical "pot" law is not 
being used for legal, personal use, but for sale both in California 
and states where "pot" is still illegal.

This demand is fueling backyard and larger-scale "pot" farming, 
especially in remote Lake, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, officials said.

"People are coming in, denuding the hillsides, damming the creeks and 
mixing in fertilizers that are not allowed in the U.S. into our 
watersheds," said Denise Rushing, a Lake County supervisor who 
supports an ordinance essentially banning outdoor grows in populated areas.

"When rains come, it flows downstream into the lake and our water 
supply," she said.

Many affected waterways also contain endangered salmon, steelhead 
trout and other creatures protected by state and federal law.

Wildlife biologists noticed streams running dry more often over the 
18 years since the state passed Proposition 215 but weren't sure why.

"We knew people were diverting water for marijuana operations, but we 
wanted to know exactly how much," said Scott Bauer, the department 
biologist who studied the "pot" farms' effects on four watersheds. 
"We didn't know they could consume all the water in a stream."

So Bauer turned to Google mapping technology and satellite data to 
find out where the many gardens are and how many plants each contained.

His study estimates that about 30,000 "pot" plants were being grown 
in each river system, and he estimates that each plant uses about 6 
gallons per day over marijuana's 150-day growing season. Some growers 
and others argue the 6-gallon estimate is high, and that "pot" plants 
can use far less water, depending on size.

He compared that information with government data on stream flows and 
visited 32 sites with other biologists to verify the mapping data. He 
said most grow sites had posted notices identifying them as medical 
"pot" farms.

"Pot" farm pollution has become such a problem in Lake County, south 
of Bauer's study area, that officials voted unanimously last year to 
ban outdoor grows.

"Counties are the ultimate arbiter of land use conflict, so while you 
have a right to grow marijuana for medicinal use, you don't have a 
right to impinge on someone else's happiness and well-being," Rushing said.

Saying they were being demonized, "pot" users challenged the law and 
gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on Tuesday's ballot. 
They argue that grow restrictions such as the ones being voted on in 
Lake County lump the responsible users in with criminals.

"We definitely feel environmental issues are a concern. But more 
restrictive ... ordinances will force people to start growing in 
unregulated and illegal places on public land," said Daniel McClean, 
a registered nurse and medical marijuana user who opposes the outdoor-grow ban.

While some counties are trying to help regulate the environmental 
effects of "pot" farms, Bauer hopes his study will lead to better 
collaboration among growers to help police illegal use of water and pesticides.

Previous collaborative attempts between government and growers have 
not ended well, said Anthony Silvaggio, a Humboldt State University 
sociology professor who studies the "pot" economy.

"The county or state gets in there and starts doing code enforcement 
on other things," Silvaggio said. "They've done this in the past."

He said "pot" farmers believe they are being unfairly blamed for 
killing endangered salmon while decades of timber cutting and 
overfishing are the real culprits.

However, the environmental damage has led to a split in the 
marijuana-growing community.

One business, the Tea House Collective in Humboldt County, offers 
medicinal "pot" to people with prescriptions that it says is farmed 
by "small-scale, environmentally conscious producers."

"Patients who cannot grow their own medicine can rely on our farmers 
to provide them with the best holistic medicine that is naturally 
grown, sustainable and forever Humboldt," the group's website advertises.

Officials say until the federal government recognizes California's 
medical marijuana laws, growers will continue to operate 
clandestinely to meet market demand for their product due to fear of 
prosecution. Meantime, enforcing federal and state environmental 
regulations will be harder.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom