by Chriss W. Street
Scientists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are warning that streams harboring endangered salmon and steelhead could go dry because of the heavy water consumption by marijuana growers.
During the growing season, California “pot farms” consume 60 million gallons of water a day. That equals 50% more than is consumed by the entire city of San Francisco.
With 79% of California now in “extreme drought” conditions, state rangers and local law enforcement are promising a crackdown on California’s $3.9 billion annual marijuana crop.
Proposition 215 was passed in 1996 to amend the California Health and Safety Code to permit personal use of medical marijuana. Since then, officials have recorded more and more streams going dry. According to the AP, “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.”
Two men were arrested last week at a Santa Cruz County pot farm that state authorities said used diverted stream water and threatened steelhead trout and endangered Central Coast Coho salmon. The raid netted 180 mature marijuana plants from a 6-acre property said California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan.
An anonymous tip led Fish and Wildlife officials to the sophisticated operation where it is believed that hundreds of thousands of gallons of water had been illegally redirected from the south fork of San Vicente Creek, Hughan said.
The creek supports steelhead trout and is the southernmost stream with Coho salmon, according to Fish and Wildlife. Fertilizer and trash was strewn across the site. Law enforcement also confiscated dozens of butane canisters were found on the property that authorities said were used to make “butane honey oil”, a concentrated form of hash.
“We care about the marijuana, but what we really care about is the damage to the environment,” Hughan said Tuesday. “Our concern is the streambed alteration, the pollution and the marijuana.”
Fish and Wildlife, Cal Fire and sheriff’s deputies from Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County participated in the July 15 raid. It appears that a number of people were working the land, but only the two men who lived there were arrested. They have both been charged with suspicion of marijuana cultivation, dumping a hazardous substance in a waterway, manufacturing drugs, polluting a waterway and unlawful diversion of water according to their arrest records.
“Illegal marijuana growers steal substantial amounts of water, exacerbating our severe drought conditions,” said Brian Naslund, Fish and Wildlife assistant chief, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.