News Feature | April 25, 2014

Marijuana Linked To Water Scarcity

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Marijuana may be exacerbating the effects of the California drought. 

"Streams in Northern California's prime marijuana-growing watersheds likely will be sucked dry this year if pot cultivation isn't curtailed," the Press Democrat reported

The problem is so widespread that the state is officially studying the issue. 

"The findings, expected to be released soon, shed new light on a massive, largely unregulated industry in California that has been blamed for polluting streams and forests with pesticides and trash and for bulldozing trees and earth to make clearings for gardens," the report said. 

Marijuana plants require a significant amount of water.

"Growers of marijuana often withdraw water directly from small streams and use up to 6 gallons per day per plant during the summer growing season," said Scott Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to NPR

Growth in this covert industry may be problematic.

"Critics say the recent explosion of the marijuana industry along the state's North Coast — a region called the 'emerald triangle' — could put a permanent buzz kill on struggling salmon populations," NPR reported

Patrick Foy, a state government official, emphasized that the covert marijuana industry harms wildlife.

“The destruction of habitat is actually quite staggering,” he said in the Press Democrat report.

Pot growers do not have much motivation to protect the water supply. 

"Since pot farming is illegal, growers have little incentive to act as land stewards. Indeed, they tend to sneak onto—and trash—state and federal parkland to plant their illicit crop. If pot farms were legal, growers could be held accountable for their environmental footprint," Mother Jones reported in a commentary. 

Will the federal government step in?

"The U.S. Sentencing Commission is getting tougher on high-level marijuana growers who operate on public and private lands over concerns that such operations are harming the environment and wildlife," the Daily Caller reported

California lawmakers lobbied for tougher sentences last fall. 

"The state’s particularly harsh drought has stoked worries that illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands is diverting water away from other industries, like agriculture," the report said.