Officials: Pot Growers Worsening California's Drought

Tuesday, 29 Apr 2014 08:32 PM

By Jason Devaney

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California is in the midst of a serious drought, and some people in the state have an idea of what is making it worse: Marijuana growers.

With each marijuana plant requiring an average of six gallons of water a day, according to a McClatchy report, legal and illegal growers are now in the spotlight. Illegal growers using public forests to plant and harvest their crop are also being accused of polluting rivers and streams with harmful pesticides and fertilizers.

"This industry — and it is an industry — is completely unregulated," said Scott Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in the McClatchy story. "What I just hope is that the watersheds don't go up in smoke before we get things regulated and protect our fish and wildlife."

Almost 1 million pot plants were seized on public lands across the United States in 2012, and 86 percent of them were in California. The state legalized medical marijuana in 1996, which made growing and possessing the substance legal. The drug is still illegal at the federal level, although there have been calls — including from retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Growers in the state's national forests often steal water from rivers and streams or create illegal dams to supply their plants with the water they need. They also use chemicals such as rat poison and other deadly substances to keep predators at bay. These practices, according to a video produced by the U.S. Forest Service embedded in the McClatchy story, result in dried up streams and dead animals around grow sites.

Many of the growers are armed with firearms and/or knives to protect their valuable crops.

"Those are lands that you and I own," Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat, told McClatchy. "And when people are growing dope there and guarding their operations with guns and the likes, and sometimes with booby traps, we can't use the land that we own. It happens all over."

Legal growers using private lands still require the large amount of water for the plants, which is draining California of the little water it has available at the moment.

Law enforcement officials have been raiding illegal grow sites for years. Now lawmakers are stepping up and introducing legislation.

Thompson is part of a 14-member group in Congress that is trying to secure $3 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration's effort in stopping large growing operations in California's forests.

California Gov. Jerry Brown marked $3.3 million in his budget proposal this year for enforcing growing rules in an effort to protect both the water supply and endangered species affected by growers.

Bauer told McClatchy that 24 tributaries that feed into California's Eel River dried up last summer. All of them, he said, were used by marijuana growers as water sources.

"In Washington state and Colorado, the growing of marijuana becomes legal and regulated. That’s not the case in California," Democrat Rep. John Garamendi told McClatchy.

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