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Pot Farms Are Draining Our Rivers, Officials Say

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Photo by jasonawhite via Flickr
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As California battles another drought, state fish and wildlife officials say medical marijuana farms in Northern California are draining and polluting rivers and streams.Officials say people are diverting water, denuding hillsides, damming creeks and mixing illegal fertilizers for backyard and large-scale pot farms, especially in the densely forested Lake, Humboldt and Mendocino counties in Northern California, The Associated Press reports. Wildlife biologists have noted that streams were running dry more often in the last 18 years since California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, which allowed for possession and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal use in the state.

Scott Bauer, a department biologist who studied pot farms’ effects on four watersheds, explains:

“We knew people were diverting water for marijuana operations, but we wanted to know exactly how much. We didn't know they could consume all the water in a stream.”

Bauer’s study used Google mapping technology to estimate that around 30,000 pot plants were being grown per river system, with each plant using about six gallons of water per day for a 150-day growing season.

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When it rains, pollutants from the farms are flowing into the water supply, according to Lake county supervisor Denise Rushing, who supports banning outdoor grows in populated areas. The waterways also carry endangered species such as salmon and steelhead.

Lake County officials actually voted to ban outdoor marijuana growing last year because of pollution (counties are the ultimate arbiters of land use conflict, Rushing explained). And Fish and Wildlife Lt. John Nores, who enforces the agency’s marijuana regulation, calls increased water use for the farms a “full-scale environmental disaster.”

But pot farmers say they’re being blamed for the problems caused by decades of timber cutting and overfishing. They’ve gathered enough signatures to put a referendum challenging the band on the June 3 ballot.