Illegal marijuana plantations take scarce water from West

LA PINE, Ore (AP) – Jack Dwyer pursued his dream of returning to the land by moving in 1972 to an idyllic, tree-studded plot of land in Oregon with a stream running through it.

We would grow our own food. We would live well. “We would have grown organically,” Dwyer said. Over the ensuing decades, he and his family did.

But now, Deer Creek is out of business after several illegal marijuana were grown in the neighborhood last spring, stealing water from both the stream and nearby aquifers casting Deer’s future in doubt.

From dusty towns to forests in the western United States, illegal marijuana growers take water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn’t enough to move around even for licensed users. Disputes over water have always existed, but illegal marijuana plantations — which thrive despite legalization in many Western countries — are adding stress. During a period of severe drought.

In California, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, there are still more illegal cannabis farms than there are licensed ones, according to the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Because peak water demand for cannabis occurs in the dry season, when stream flow is lowest, even small diversions can dry out waterways and harm aquatic plants and animals.” Study from the center She said.

Some jurisdictions are resisting. California’s Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in May banned trucks carrying 100 gallons or more of water from using roads into arid regions where 2,000 illegal marijuana allegedly use millions of gallons of water daily.

Provincial law says illegal farming “depletes precious groundwater and surface water resources” and threatens agricultural, recreational and residential water use.

In Oregon, the number of illegal growing cases appears to have increased recently as the Pacific Northwest has suffered Dry Spring Since 1924.

Many of them operate under the guise of being cannabis growers, legalized nationally under the 2018 Farm Act, said Mark Pettinger, a spokesperson for the Oregon Liquor and Hemp Commission. By law, the maximum content of THC in hemp — the compound Which gives cannabis a high percentage of it – about 0.3%. Hemp plant fibers are used to make rope, clothing, paper, and other products.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel believes there are hundreds of illegal farms in his southern Oregon county alone, many of which are funded from abroad. He thinks financiers expect to lose a few increases, but the sheer number of them means that many will continue until marijuana is harvested and sold on the black market outside of Oregon.

None of the new sites have been licensed to grow recreational marijuana, Pettinger said. Regulators, faced in 2019 with a backlog of license applications and an abundance of regulated marijuana, have stopped processing new applications until January 2022.

Daniel said illegal farming has had “catastrophic” consequences for natural water resources. Many streams dried up much earlier than usual, and the water table decreased – the subterranean boundary between waterlogged and unsaturated soils.

“It’s just a blatant theft of water,” Daniel said.

Last month, Daniel and his deputies, backed by other law enforcement officers, destroyed 72,000 marijuana plants growing in 400 inexpensive greenhouses, known as cordon houses.

The water for these plants came through a temporary and illegal system of pumps and hoses from the nearby Illinois River, which belongs to the Wild Rivers and Landscape System, established by Congress to preserve certain rivers of outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values.

Daniel said another illegal farm with 200,000 plants was fetching water from Deer Creek using pumps and pipes. He described it as “one of the most rude and ugly things I’ve ever seen”.

“They actually dug holes in the ground so deep that Deer Creek dried up…and they were going down into the water table,” the sheriff said.

Dwyer has water rights in Deer Creek, near the community of Selma, which allows him to grow crops. The creek can dry up late in the year at times, but Doyer has never seen it dry, let alone so early in the year.

The riverbed is now a path of rocks bordered by trees and trees.

Over the decades, Dwyer built an infrastructure of buried water pipes, dozens of taps and a stream-connected irrigation system to grow vegetables and protect his home from wildfires. He is using an old well for domestic water, but it is unclear how long that will last.

“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have water,” said the 75-year-old retired middle school teacher.

Marijuana has been grown for decades in southern Oregon, but the recent explosion of massive illegal plants has shocked residents.

The Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, where Dwyer lives, held two town halls on the issue recently. Christopher Hall, a community organizer for the conservation area, said water theft was a major concern.

“The people of the Illinois Valley are facing an existential threat for the first time in local history,” Hall said.

In the high desert of central Oregon, illegal marijuana growers are also taking advantage of water supplies that are already so stressed that many growers, including those who produce 60% of the world’s carrot seed supply, are facing water shortages this year.

On September 2, Deschutes County authorities raided a 30-acre (12 ha) property in Alfalfa, East Bend. It contained 49 greenhouses containing approximately 10,000 marijuana plants and featured a complex watering system with several tanks ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 gallons. Neighbors told investigators that the illegal growth forced them to drill a new well, Sheriff Shane Nelson said.

The Bend region has experienced a population boom, which has increased the demand for water supply. Illegal growth makes matters worse.

In La Pine, South Bend, Roger Jenks watched a crew dig a new well on his property. The first sign of his current well failing came when the pressure dropped while he was watering his small front garden. Driller Shane Harris estimated that the water table is dropping 6 inches (15 cm) per year.

Last November, sheriffs raided an illegal farm in a remote location with 500 marijuana plants.

Jenks’ neighbor, Jim Hooper, worries that his well might fail next. He hates illegal growth and their uncontrolled use of water.

“With the illegals, there’s no tracking of it,” Huber said. “They steal water from the rest of us, making us spend thousands of dollars to drill new wells deeper.”

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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Follow the Associated Press’s full drought coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/droughts

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