Marijuana growers worsening California drought

Large marijuana plots hidden deep in California’s public lands have illegally diverted hundreds of millions of gallons of water, compounding shortages caused by the state’s ongoing drought.

Public officials in Mendocino County, a region on California’s north coast known for its lush redwood forests and potent cannabis, have witnessed rivers and creeks drained by the large-scale drug operations.

“They’re using a whole lot of water.” said Lt. Rusty Noe of the Mendocino County sheriff’s office in a telephone interview with the Bright Green Blog.

Lt. Noe noted that police have seized more than 500,000 pot plants this season in Mendocino County alone. Each plant requires about one gallon of water per day. California is entering  the fourth year of a severe drought, with residents in some areas facing the first mandatory water restrictions in two decades and farms laying of thousands of workers.

“It’s really affecting our water supply,” said Noe of the illicit growing sites.

Noe also cited other environmental damage caused by the plantations, including the dumping of toxic chemicals (a subject we covered a year ago) and erosion of soil and underbrush.”These camps are just unbelievable,” said Noe, who noted that the problem is getting steadily worse each year.

“It is making a huge resource impact,” Dennis Slota, a hydrologist with the Mendocino County Water Agency, told the Bright Green Blog over the phone. Mr. Slota said that he knew personally of two steelhead trout streams that are now dead from illegal water diversion.

Slota suggested that most of the environmental destruction is caused not by Mendocino’s local pot growers, who have long taken advantage of the county’s mild climate and tolerant views toward the drug, but by mostly Mexican crime syndicates that, in the 1990s, began planting large plots deep in the woods, which they would abandon after the October-November harvest.

His views are echoed by Ron Pugh, a US Forest Service special agent, who was quoted in the spring issue of Terrain, a Northern California environmental magazine:

Says Pugh about the sheer volume of grows, “This is not a hippie thing.” He’s come prepared with a list of comparisons between a “hippie” grow and a DTO site—one maintained by a drug trafficking organization. A traditional garden on public lands, Pugh says, has one or two growers and fewer than fifty plants. The gardener, who lives locally, hikes in every other day or so, carrying water for his plants. Firearms are uncommon, and locations are predictable. “They’re within a quarter mile of a road,” Pugh explains, “and they’re rarely uphill. White guys are lazy.”

The DTO sites, on the other hand, are as remote as the growers can get, often three miles from the nearest road. They contain an average of 6,600 plants, tended by an average of seven growers who live in tents the entire season, from May to October. The growers are aided by scanners, radios, night-vision goggles, an arsenal of weapons, and truckloads of plastic pipe to divert area streams to their plants, sometimes from as far as a half-mile away. When they abandon the site in the fall, they leave behind mountains of trash, about as much trash as a small city dump.

Writing for Blue Living Ideas, a news website that covers water issues, Jennifer Lance notes that only 1 in 8 of those arrested in Mendocino this season for growing marijuana are from the county. She also notes that  the county’s district attorney is investigating at least one recently seized grow operation for “environmental crimes” and “water diversion,” on top of drug crimes.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/12/2009 - 10:57 am.

    The drug war, it just keeps on giving.
    Billion and billions wasted and to what end?
    It is nothing less than the mother of all economic stimulus programs to the law enforcement and prison industry.

  2. Submitted by Mike Wyatt on 10/22/2009 - 01:26 pm.

    As noted by law enforcement, they can’t even BEGIN to get a handle on this problem. The illegality of marijuana makes it so artificially lucrative. Notice how they differentiate the “casual” grower for personal use with the organized crime syndicates? If people could grow their own this would never happen. Period. Law enforcement has repeatedly said they can’t even make a dent in the problem. Well, the problem it seems is PROHIBITION itself. Take away the profit potential from drug cartels and LEGALIZE the use and cultivation by ADULTS in this country. Don’t even get me started on how miserably the “War on Drugs” has failed to keep drugs out of the hands of kids (a stated objective of the drug war.) Kids cite drugs as being much easier to obtain than alcohol. What is wrong with this picture? End prohibition of marijuana and see the problems disappear.

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