You are here
Home > News > California Drought Prompts Legislation to Increase Fines for Water Pollution for Illegal Grows

California Drought Prompts Legislation to Increase Fines for Water Pollution for Illegal Grows

Recent legislation was introduced to prohibit illegal cannabis cultivation. These efforts are making more use of water in California’s drought than ever before.

“Illegal cannabis farming is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” said San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman in a press release. “The County is determined to stop this terrible damage to the environment and to protect the lives and property of our residents from lawless criminals.”

In order to address these issues, Thurston Smith introduced Assembly Bill 2728 and Senator Anna Caballero introduced Senate Bill 1426.

AB-2728 would increase the fines for illegal cultivation to $1,000 for each day of violation, and $2,500 for each acre-foot of water diverted (and if that measurement isn’t specified, $500 per plant). These stipulations would only take place in a “critically dry year immediately preceded by two or more consecutive below normal, dry, or critical dry years” in the event that the California state governor has issued a state of emergency. “Our state is dealing with an unprecedented number of illegal cannabis grows, particularly in the rural desert communities that I represent in the legislature. Because of this, our laws need to require compliance and ensure that illegal activity is punished,” said Smith about the bill. Recently, AB-27728 was referred by a committee.

SB-1426 would punish “unauthorized tapping into a water conveyance or storage infrastructure or digging or extracting groundwater from an unpermitted well.” “Illegal cannabis farming is killing wildlife and wreaking environmental damage across the state,” Caballero said in a San Bernardino press release in March. “This bill will help stop the pollution of our groundwater supply and the theft of water, which are all the more important during an ongoing multi-year drought.” Currently, as of May 19 the bill is “Held in committee and under submission” for the time being.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proclaimed a state of emergency for California’s drought three times so far in April, May, and July 2021 due to the impacts of climate change. With a target of 15% reduction in water usage, Newsom asked California residents to decrease their water use. More recently in March 2022, Newsom shared that that goal was not met, and he asked local water agencies to “implement more aggressive water conservations.”

San Bernardino County is among many California regions experiencing drought conditions. Alex Villanueva, Los Angeles County Sheriff explained how much water is required for cannabis cultivation. “The average marijuana plant requires a minimum of 3 gallons of water per plant, per day,” said Villanueva, according to NBC Miami. “Just the 2021 numbers alone amount to 150 million gallons of water used to bring that crop to harvest. That’s just enormous.”

The water required for a cannabis crop to thrive will depend on where it is located, what its growing medium is, and the stage at which it’s currently in. A 2019 survey called “A narrative review on environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation” estimates that outdoor cannabis requires 5.5 gallons per day per plant in August, and 5.1 gallons per day per plant in September, whereas indoor grown plants used 2.5 gallons in August and 5.1 gallons in September. The conclusion of the research was that cannabis plants have a higher need for water and nutrients than other crops, such as wheat/maize or soybeans.

Another study published in October 2020, called “Water storage and irrigation practices for cannabis drive seasonal patterns of water extraction and use in Northern California,” stated that legal cannabis cultivation farms use groundwater wells more often than other water sources, such as streams, captured rainwater, springs, and municipal water systems. “Our findings indicate that water extraction from farms using groundwater wells generally occurs during the summer dry season and highlight the need to assess their potential impacts to connected surface water in streams,” the study authors wrote.

Long-time California resident, Assemblymember Tom Lackey issued his own statement regarding illegal growers polluting water supplies. “To any of those who are engaged in the illicit grows: I want you to know there’s a collective effort, and we’re coming after you,” Lackey saidAt a press conference held on May 18. “You come after a very sacred thing: our community. You come after our desert, and you’re stealing our water. You’re poisoning our land, and enough is enough.”