Marijuana: Another Contributor to California's Drought

By Sean Breslin
Published: April 10, 2014

Marijuana growing is a budding business in America as laws are relaxed on pot use in several states, but as California's drought continues to worsen, these thirsty plants, whether grown lawfully or illegally, aren't helping the problem.

Along the coast of Northern California, where there are thousands of pot plants hydrated by a single, stressed water source, each plant requires as much as six gallons of water per day in the summer months, according to NPR. As an already extensive drought likely gets even more dire this summer, marijuana farms are going to guzzle up a lot of the state's water if dry, sunny conditions persist.

(MORE: Communities Are on the Brink of Running Dry)

"The deeper you head into spring and throughout the summer, the chances of precipitation drop off drastically in California," said weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce. The wet season traditionally returns in the fall, but some parts of the state – San Francisco included – can expect to see less than half an inch of rainfall from June through September, Dolce added.

Authorities say Illegal growth remains a huge issue for California in particular, and those who grow without following the rules and regulations of the legal business have been caught stealing water from other farmers to fuel their thirsty industry, according to KRCA-TV.

Many of the illegal farms are located in national forests, a problem that's become rampant in California.

California's medical marijuana dispensaries are a billion-dollar industry which earns as much as $105 million in state taxes annually, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

To combat illegal growth, California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed $3.3 million in spending to enforce pot cultivation rules and California members of the U.S. House of Representatives are asking for $3 million in federal funding to rid public forests of illegal growth operations, McClatchy DC said.

“They’re using the water illegally. They’re using the land illegally. They’re growing an illegal product,” California Rep. John Garamendi said. “And they’re probably protecting that product with illegal weapons.”

(MORE: 15 Shocking Facts You Didn't Know About Weed)

Fish farmers say some marijuana farms produce run-off of pesticides, fertilizers and stream-clogging sediments that leak into waterways where large amounts of Chinook salmon and related species are raised, NPR also reported. This could cause further headaches for an industry that's already struggling due to lower salmon populations.

"I have nothing against people growing dope," Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, told NPR. "But if you do, we want you to grow your crop in a way that doesn't screw up fish habitat. There is no salmon-bearing watershed at this point that we can afford to sacrifice."

Cultivation of medical marijuana in California was legalized in 1996, but it remains illegal according to federal law, SFGate.com reports. Therefore, most legal growing operations don't run into trouble, and marijuana defenders say far more water is being used within the state for fracking or irrigation of other crops.

“Basically, this is a case of marijuana being blamed for much more than it is responsible for,” Ellen Komp, the deputy director of the California chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, according to McClatchy DC.

MORE: Wildfires Hit SoCal in January

Firefighters monitor the Colby fire burning for a second day on a hillside on Highway 39 in Azusa, California. (Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images)


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