Tuesday, State Water Board to Decide Water Policy for Cannabis
California’s SWRCB will hold a hearing to consider “adopting the proposed Cannabis Cultivation Policy: Priniciples and Guidelines for Cannabis Cultivation” during item 6 on the agenda.
The Cannabis Cultivation Policy encapsulates the Waste Discharge Requirements, but Waste Discharge will be considered in a separate agenda item the same day. Item 7 on the SWRCB agenda is “Consideration of proposed General Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges of Waste Associated with Cannabis Cultivation Activities”
CANNABIS CULTIVATION POLICY HIGHLIGHTS
The proposed SWRCB Cannabis Cultivation Policy separates California into 14 Cannabis Cultivation Policy regions based on geography and other factors. Rules are being established in each district to meet the water needs of that region. These districts are described and mapped in Appendix A of the Staff Report on the Cannabis Cultivation Policy.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Basin is parsed out into three of the regions. Region 4, the North Coast District, includes the watersheds of the Eel, and Mad Rivers and Orick’s Redwood Creek. Region 7 includes the rivers that run to the sea beginning with the Mattole River watershed south to the San Francisco Bay. Region 1, called the Klamath Region, encompasses the Klamath, Trinity and Smith River watersheds. Based on these bio-regional divisions, cannabis growers in Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt Counties will have varying rules of operation under this policy.
Property owners who consider cultivating more than six cannabis plants on any parcel for either recreational or medical reasons are expected to comply with California laws regarding water rights.
Under the proposed Cannabis Cultivation Policy, farmers would be obligated to agree to storage and forbearance periods. Riparian water rights do not permit seasonal storage of water.
SMALL IRRIGATION USE REGISTRATION
The proposed policy does, however, establish a legal framework to make the needed appropriative water right available. It is called the Small Irrigation Use Registration (SIUR).
However, the policy proposes that properties on fully appropriated Wild and Scenic Rivers be ineligible for the appropriative right which might impact properties in the watersheds of the Eel River. With few exceptions, the Eel River, including the South Fork, is designated Recreational, as opposed to a Wild designation, under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation.
The policy language for exclusions from the Small Irrigation Use Registration program is vague regarding what might cause the designation to impede a property owners’ ability to acquire the SIUR:
“Cultivators should be aware that the Cannabis SIUR and SIURS, like other appropriative water rights:
1) will not be issued for fully appropriated streams in the restricted diversion season, as it has been determined that water is unavailable for appropriation;
2)may not be available in certain watersheds/streams, including on rivers and streams that are or may become designated as Fully Appropriated Streams or Wild and Scenic under The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (Public Law90-542;16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.); and
3)are not available where the water source is in a CDFW Instream Flow Study area with a final flow recommendation from CDFW submitted to the State Water Board under Public Resource Code section 10002.”
While the South Fork of the Eel River is an Instream Flow Study area under the Ca Department of Fish and Wildlife, it does not yet appear to have a “final flow recommendation” established.
For property owners who obtain Small Irrigation Use Registrations, there will be regulations on when water may be collected for storage. The first flush flow event must be maintained. Further, minimum flow requirements in the winter season will be maintained at much higher flow than summer according to the proposed policy. The Cannabis Cultivation Policy reads “The Tessmann Method develops instream flow requirements by using percentages of historical mean annual and mean monthly natural streamflow.”
This hearing will be item 6 on the agenda.
The NCRWQCB adopted its Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program in 2015. This Tuesday the 17th, in item 7 on the State Water Resources Control Board’s agenda, the board will consider and rule on a statewide policy for regulating potential water quality impairments caused by cannabis cultivation. The description of Item 7 suggests farmers in the NCRWQCB who have enrolled in the Regional Board’s program will be able to transition into compliance under the statewide Order.
“Because the North Coast and Central Valley Regional Water Boards had existing region-specific orders, the General Order includes a method to transition those enrollees to the statewide General Order.”
Issues covered in the waste discharge policy include winterization of farms, nitrogen application to plants, fuel use and storage, erosion management, sediment containment, materials storage and septic/sewage issues.
A Personal Use Exemption for the Waste Discharge Requirements may be granted to outdoor cultivators disturbing less than 1,000 square feet and cultivating on land with less than 20% slope. A Conditional Exemption may be granted for outdoor cultivators disturbing less than 2,000 square feet on less than 20% slope, or for indoor cultivators with access to sewage treatment services.
The entire SWRCB meeting can be heard or viewed from home. The meeting is held in Sacramento in the Coastal Hearing Room on the second floor of the CalEPA Building at 1001 I Street. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30a.m Tuesday the 17th of October.