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Protecting Northern Cali’s Environment in the Era of Legal Weed

Mark Miller

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Legal medical marijuana cultivation—as well as black-market pot gardening—has made an impact on the California environment-at-large that is both complex and controversial, and a new article in the International Business Times investigates the efforts to improve cannabis’ carbon footprint.

With California undergoing a severe drought and water conversation a particularly sensitive political topic, outdoor pot gardens in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle has been linked to water diversion, resulting in erosion.

The California Dept of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) analyzed high-resolution aerial photos of four Emerald Triangle river systems, counting the number of indoor and outdoor grows they could identify. Analysts estimated the total number of pot plants in each of the four sectors ranged from 23,000 to 32,000. Multiplying that figure by the now-disputed 2010 estimate that weed plants each thirst for six gallons of water per day, the CDFW determined three of the four areas’ total marijuana grow demands exceeded minimum summer stream flows, drying them up.

However, pot proponents argue those numbers are skewed. The California Growers Association has revised the 2010 figure and currently maintains a marijuana plant requires only two gallons of aqua daily, which could point to other factors—such as the massive drought—evaporating those local streams.

Either way, a potential solution to the weed-water-diversion issue is in the works.

As of February 2016, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will enact the first-ever water-use regulations specifically tailored for pot farmers.  Cultivators with grows of 2,000 square-feet or more will be required to enroll in the board’s program, which will ensure growers have the proper water diversion permits—currently less than five percent do—and will address issues like erosion, irrigation and cleanup.

In exchange, pot farmers can rectify the environmental issues without fear of law enforcement retribution. The ultimate aim is to transform Northern California’s cannabis cultivators into the environmental guardians of the region as a whole—and with legal pot on its way and here to stay, that is a noble goal indeed.

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