Pubdate: Thu, 15 Oct 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Thomas D. Elias


As the state moves toward taxing marijuana growers for the first 
time, those same growers also are starting to face restrictions on 
water use, just like farmers of more conventional crops.

One reason is that the water consumption of pot farms has caused 
serious depredations of salmon and trout runs in several Northern 
California streams, most notably the Eel River and its tributary 
streams in the so called "Emerald Triangle" of Mendocino, Humboldt 
and Trinity counties. Marijuana has long been the largest cash crop 
in that region.

It's not that a single cannabis plant is much more thirsty than other 
crops. One plant, according to many reports, can take anywhere from 
six to 15 gallons per day, about as much as a corn plant and not 
nearly as much as it takes to produce, say, a single one-pound 
beefsteak or the denim needed to make a pair of jeans.

But when the estimated 30,000 pot growers in the area - most claiming 
to grow only medicinal marijuana - are done watering on any typical 
day, they have often used more than 720,000 gallons of water.

One question might be, "And for what?" The detrimental mental and 
motivational effects of regular pot smoking are at least as 
well-known and well-researched as the medical and palliative benefits 
on the positive side of the weed.

But while virtually all other water users in California have suffered 
drought-related cutbacks over the last year, the often clandestine 
nature of pot farming has left it without similar restrictions.

This may be about to end. For the first time, a system of regulating 
medical marijuana growers statewide was signed into law this fall. 
That came after Republican George Runner, an ultraconservative former 
state senator now serving on the state's tax administration Board of 
Equalization, opined that California should levy an excise tax on 
medipot, and use the money to fight marijuana-related crimes, like 
poaching on public lands and draining streams dry.

Some streams have dried up in part because of drought, but also 
because many growers pump water regularly to large storage tanks 
which have lately dotted the landscape in some rural areas. They 
supply water for terraced planting that has produced erosion into 
streams, creating other problems.

One reason there are no controls: The Emerald Triangle features 
thousands of acres owned by timber companies and other large property 
holders who rarely, if ever, patrol their holdings. So pot growers 
brazenly squat on the land, often setting booby-traps in their 
immediate vicinity and bringing in crews of undocumented laborers 
from Central America. Nicaragua is reportedly a major source of such labor.

One result is that fish runs essential to survival of coho salmon and 
steelhead trout can end as young fish are left high and dry, 
literally fish out of water.

Plus, growers often use pesticides and rat poisons with little regard 
for whether they drain back into stream beds and future water 
supplies, or for whether poisoned animals and insects enter the food 
chain after being eaten by birds.

Enter the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose 
jurisdiction runs north from Marin County to the Oregon state line. 
Calling it a "first step" toward protecting water resources, that 
board voted 5-1 in late summer to compel growers to register their 
operations and operate with environmental responsibility. That could 
mean restrictions on water use, as well as protecting streams and 
wildlife from contamination.

The new regulations, billed as a pilot program that will spread to 
the rest of the state if successful, don't aim to arrest growers and 
in fact provide ways for them to screen their identities from 
officers out to enforce federal laws still outlawing all pot production.

"We are not endorsing marijuana cultivation" one board member said. 
But the board is officially recognizing widespread growing which 
often disregards county-set limits on the number of medipot plants 
one person may raise.

In this battle of fish vs. pot, it's clear the weed is winning for 
now, but at least the plight of the salmon and trout has been 
officially recognized for the first time.

What happens if a ballot initiative fully legalizes recreational 
marijuana next year? That's anyone guess. Thomas D. Elias writes on 
California politics and other issues.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom