Pubdate: Wed, 23 Dec 2015
Source: Bulletin, The (Bend, OR)
Copyright: 2015 Western Communications Inc.
Author: Joseph Ditzler

Another Snag for Industry


Law Prohibits Use of Water From Reclamation Projects for Marijuana

It's no wonder that marijuana growers gravitate to the Tumalo 
Irrigation District and other small water districts in Central Oregon.

Their water rights have only loose ties to the U.S. Bureau of 
Reclamation or none at all.

Tumalo Irrigation District has the rights to water, free of federal 
oversight, that it provides its users because it paid back the money 
spent by the bureau to build parts of the irrigation system, 
including Crescent Lake, said Kenneth Rieck, district general manager.

Federal policy imposed in May prohibits the use of water from federal 
reclamation projects to grow marijuana, still considered a controlled 
substance under federal law. Measure 91, approved by voters in 
November 2014, legalized recreational marijuana for adults in Oregon, 
including growing and selling it.

To obtain a license to grow marijuana commercially, the Oregon Liquor 
Control Commission requires applicants to show a qualified source of 
water. In Central Oregon, infrastructure such as Crane Prairie and 
Wickiup reservoirs or canal systems were built and maintained with 
federal dollars under the purview of the Bureau of Reclamation.

But separating federally controlled water from other sources is not 
always a straightforward exercise. The water source, delivery route 
and time of year it's delivered may mean federal water is combined 
with water from strictly state or private sources. The federal 
prohibition does not apply when water from a federal project is mixed 
with water from another source in a facility that is not federal 
property, according to bureau policy.

"The use of (Bureau of) Reclamation water or facilities for 
activities prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is 
very situational," said Douglas DeFlitch, Bend field office manager 
for the bureau, "and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

The federal government has taken a light touch when it comes to 
cracking down on growers who use federal water to cultivate marijuana 
in states where it's legal to do so. The Bureau of Reclamation has 
referred five cases of alleged improper water use in those states to 
the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation since the 
bureau policy took effect, said Daniel DuBray, spokesman for the 
Bureau of Reclamation in Washington, D.C.

In Deschutes County, applications for any license related to 
commercial marijuana are on hold, anyway. The County Commission on 
Monday decided to temporarily prohibit new marijuana businesses from 
operating in the unincorporated areas of the county while it reviews 
proposed zoning regulations. The three-member commission agreed to 
revisit the ban in 90 days.

In the Tumalo Irrigation District, growers have been harvesting 
medical marijuana for as long as 10 years without a concern, Rieck 
said . The prospect of recreational marijuana farms has raised fears 
and questions on both sides of the debate, he said. For the time 
being, he said, state law is clear, if and when growing pot is 
approved in the county.

"Growing marijuana is considered a beneficial use for the state's 
water rights," Rieck said. "We would treat it pretty much like any 
other crop. It would make little difference to the irrigation district."
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