Tags: Marijuana Legalization | California | drought | marijuana | cultivation

Study: Pot Cultivation Worsening California Drought

Image: Study: Pot Cultivation Worsening California Drought
(David McNew/Reuters/Landov)

By    |   Thursday, 09 Apr 2015 11:36 AM

Opposition to the legalization of marijuana has focused on the potentially detrimental impact the drug may have on adolescent development, as well as its contribution to rising crime rates, but a new study examines how pot cultivation has worsened California's current drought.

The study authored by scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife concludes that the demand for water to cultivate cannabis in northern California has worsened the local effects of the state's historic drought.

"The environmental impacts associated with marijuana cultivation appear substantial, yet have been difficult to quantify, in part because cultivation is clandestine and often occurs on private property," says the study, which was published in the scientific journal PLOS One.

The scientists further concluded that "water demands for the existing level of marijuana cultivation in many northern California watersheds are unsustainable and are likely contributing to the decline of sensitive aquatic species in the region" and that "marijuana cultivation may be completely de-watering streams, and for the larger fish-bearing streams downslope, the flow diversions are substantial."

The authors acknowledge their analysis is limited in part because marijuana remains illegal for recreational use and is therefore unregulated and growers often cultivate pot under the radar.

The researchers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife Watershed Enforcement Team started monitoring stream flows in three watersheds in California's Humboldt and Mendocino counties in 2009 and used Google Earth to "count" cannabis sites.

They determined that the number of cannabis plants in each watershed ranged from an estimated 23,000 to 32,000, with each plant estimated to use 22.7 liters, or about 6 gallons, of water per day.

Using that estimate, Ethan Epstein of The Weekly Standard concludes that over the course of the state's four-year drought, the cultivation of those plants has required the use of roughly 63 billion gallons of water.

He also notes that if the new water conservation measures implemented by California Gov. Jerry Brown were already in place, the eradication of outdoor marijuana plants "would have saved the state 15 percent of that total over the course of the drought."

In response to the study and concerns about the amount of water used for pot cultivation, state Assemblyman Jim Wood has introduced The Marijuana Watershed Protection Act, and state Sen. Mike McGuire plans to introduce a broader cannabis regulation bill, reports The Eureka Times Standard.

Both bills will address bringing cannabis farmers into environmental compliance.

"My bill is really focused on trying to find ways for medical marijuana cultivators to comply with a lot of the things that traditional agricultural has to. In many ways, it is aimed at trying to educate those that are cultivating — learning the value of water storage, how you can have a lesser impact in the watershed in that way," Wood told the paper.

"People who don't live in this county don't know what is going on," he added. "We have got to get a better handle on this."

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Opposition to the legalization of marijuana has focused on the potentially detrimental impact the drug may have on adolescent development, as well as its contribution to rising crime rates, but a new study examines how pot cultivation has worsened California's current drought.
California, drought, marijuana, cultivation
491
2015-36-09
Thursday, 09 Apr 2015 11:36 AM
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