Illegal marijuana farming is exacerbating water shortages in drought-stricken areas of the United States. As the AP reports, “From dusty towns to forests in the U.S. West, illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn’t enough to go around for even licensed users. Conflicts about water have long existed, but illegal marijuana farms — which proliferate despite legalization in many Western states — are adding strain during a severe drought.”
It’s particularly bad in California, which has been hard hit with drought conditions. Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California at Davis, put it plainly:“We are in worse shape than we were before the last drought, and we are going to be in even worse shape after this one.” These conditions have created a sense of desperation. And during desperate times, illegal marijuana farmers take desperate measures, according to calmmatters.org:
“As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping.”
And as stealthy as the thieves are, it’s not a hidden secret amongst the populace. As Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall stated, “Anyway that you can imagine that somebody is going to grab water, they’re doing it. For goodness sakes, everybody knows what is going on.” In fact, according to the LAist, “Halfway through this year, 125 Californians have reported thefts to state authorities, more than twice as many as a decade ago.”
Because of the cost of water, there is an incentive for illegal weed farmers to continue the theft. According to the Brookings Institute, “To avoid water costs, legal and illegal cultivators of cannabis in the United States thus often seek to use water from sources other than metered taps. In California’s Siskiyou County alone, illegal marijuana cultivators were estimated to expend about 1.5 to 2 million gallons (5.7 to 7.6 million liters) of unpaid water a day.”
This is certainly true in the Sierra Nevada. The Mercury News states, “. . .as many as 4,000 illegal grow sites are operating in Nevada County, according to county estimates. In the Antelope Valley, illegal grows have doubled from 200 last year to 400 today, according to county data, while other estimates put the number in the thousands.”
Oregon is fairing just as badly, where illegal marijuana farmers create “ . . illicit system of pumps and hoses from the nearby Illinois River, which belongs to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values.” Things have gotten so bad that the water thieves are tapping into underground reservoirs. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel states, “They had actually dug holes into the ground so deep that Deer Creek had dried up … and they were down into the water table.”
If we are serious about ameliorating the War On Drugs as more states move toward legalizing marijuana, we need to get serious about cracking down on this type of behavior. Marijuana cannot be more of a burden than a benefit to society.
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