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Water Deeply Talks: Water and Cannabis in California

Cannabis cultivation in California – legal and illegal – can come at a cost to local water and wildlife. Water Deeply talks to experts about the impacts and upcoming state regulations.

Written by Ian Evans Published on Read time Approx. 1 minutes
Us oakland mayor libby schaaf speaks at the cannabis business su
Marijuana growth can come at a cost to local water, even when it is legal.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

In our latest Water Deeply Talk, managing editor Tara Lohan, joined by expert guests Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, and Water Deeply contributing editor Matt Weiser, spoke about cannabis production in California and how it affects water throughout the state.

The heart of California’s marijuana production is in the “Emerald Triangle” – an area in the north made up of parts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. In these remote mountain areas, many illegal growers have leached chemicals into local waterways, harming fish and other wildlife.

“We’ve seen black bears writhing in agony,” notes Greacen.

Illegal farms often pump as much water as they can into cultivation, draining local streams. However, even people growing marijuana legally can spoil local water with construction and road use that spill sediment and pollution into waterways and threaten fish.

With the passage of Proposition 64 last year legalizing recreational marijuana sales, large growing operations are also opening in desert communities in Southern California. Weiser notes that the town of Desert Hot Springs – less than two hours east of Los Angeles – is enjoying a marijuana boom, as is Nipton, a small town on the Nevada border. Operations in these communities will be entirely dependent on local groundwater, some of which is replenished by Colorado River imports.

To find out more, you can listen to our full, 30-minute conversation.

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