New Study Throws Environmental Spotlight on Marijuana Cultivation in Emerald Triangle
A study published yesterday looks at the effect of marijuana grows on water flow and on the wildlife that depends on it. Researchers examined four watersheds–three in Humboldt County and one in Mendocino County. The results do not look good for the fish. Water sucked out to produce glistening, sugary buds could, at times, exceed streamflow in three of the four watersheds which fits with witnesses who have recounted local waterways disappearing in places when they had never been known to do so before.The authors concluded from their research, “In the most impacted study watersheds, diminished streamflow is likely to have lethal or sub-lethal effects on state-and federally-listed salmon and steelhead trout and to cause further decline of sensitive amphibian species.”
The watersheds looked at in the research paper, Impacts of Surface Water Diversions for Marijuana Cultivation on Aquatic Habitat in Four Northwestern California by Scott Bauer et al, contain differing amounts of grows. The grows on the northernmost watershed cluster in one small section
while the grows in the two central watersheds freckle the area densely.Outlet Creek in Mendocino also has multiple grows spread across the study area.
The study authors estimated that each watershed contained between 23,000 to 32,000 plants each sucking an average of approximately 6 gallons of water per day during the growing season which they compared to grapes–about 3 1/3 gallons of water a day. (Though the the amount of product to feel pleasantly buzzed per gallon of water used would be another calculation altogether. Marijuana plants presumably produce large amounts of bud while grapes produce few bottles of wine per plant.)
According to the study, the four watersheds “are already designated as impaired for elevated water temperature and sediment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Lower flows will exacerbate these issues and, according to the study’s authors, lead to fish dying in unacceptably high numbers. “Complete dewatering of stream reaches would result in stranding and outright mortality of salmonids, which has been observed by the authors at a number of [marijuana cultivation sites] just downstream of their water diversions.” Amphibians also could be at risk.
The authors warn that marijuana grows are more harmful to waterflow than logging. They state,
In contrast, timber harvesting, which until recently was the primary land use in forested ecoregions in the western United States, does not typically divert headwater streams in the same manner as [marijuana cultivation sites.] Timber harvesting operations, at least in California, have state regulatory oversight that requires bypass flows to maintain habitat values for surface water diversions.
Northcoast Environmental Center’s Facebook page posted the link to this study saying, “This is probably the most conclusive study on the watershed-scale impacts of unchecked marijuana production in our region….While there are responsible growers out there, they are being overshadowed by many more who are sucking streams dry. Time to nip it in the bud!”