There seems to be the notion that banning a single crop would be a radical new response to drought and an unprecedented action by the state. But that is the world we live in now. There’s a popular lucrative quasi-legal crop that Californian farmers are forbidden to grow now, at the risk of becoming criminals. They can’t grow pot legally. No one thinks that this means the end of agriculture or this horribly distorts the market for other crops or that we are all Communists living under Mao on collectivized farms because of it. They just can’t grow pot and the world keeps turning.
Perhaps the growers who lose out under an almond moratorium could be compensated by getting a license to grow pot, like the tobacco licensing system. At least pot can be fallowed in dry years.
5 responses to “We are already used to single crop bans.”
Wait a minute OTPR, as of 2012 Google Earth imagery there were over 4,000 cataloged outdoor marijuana “farms” in Humboldt County alone, which means there’s thousands of California Farmers growing a multi-billion dollar crop. We’re quite used to this crop that has grown in output every year for the past 40 something years and is exported all over the U.S.. While the majority of those farms may be illegal under state law, some are state legal grows covered under Proposition 215 and SB420 law, and NONE of them have any regulations governing their cultivation practices beyond water use laws that apply to all landowners administered by the Water Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Both agencies are hopelessly under staffed, devoid of leadership and at this point impotent to deal with the overwhelming problem. Moreover, all of these farmers are operating in an environment of conflicting State and Federal laws, though it appears the intent of Congress is that the Federal government should not interfere with States that have legalized either medical marijuana and/or recreational marijuana. At this point in time the Justice Department is defying Congress and continuing to prosecute California medical cannabis dispensaries.
What connection does this have with water you may wonder? What this quagmire means is that most of the state’s marijuana crop is being grown with no oversight on water practices using water from already impaired watersheds that have been 90% (or greater) logged at least once since World War II.
Because of the topography of the Northcoast it’s up to each individual farmer to develop their water system to irrigate their crop. Because of the clandestine nature of marijuana growing prior to the enactment of Prop 215 in 1996 the typical pot grow was small, well concealed and relied on small scale water diversions from springs and creeks during the summer. Multiply that by thousands of expanded grows in this era of reduced enforcement and eradication of illegal grows commonly referred to as the Green Rush and what you get in these drought years are salmon bearing streams that are no longer able to support young Coho and Steelhead during their freshwater rearing cycles with cold flowing water and the aquatic food chain necessary for survival.
Since this area is also the wettest region of the state, there are huge amounts of rain that falls here, but no infrastructure to store winter runoff and deliver it to farmers in mountainous terrain. There’s no regulation, guidance or widespread educational outreach to get each farmer to develop winter runoff storage to meet their summer irrigation needs. Only a small fraction of environmentally responsible growers have put in winter water storage and we’ve been outpaced by the growth of well-funded larger farms (what are called “greed grows” in local slang) that in some ways operate by the same economic forces that drive the planting of thousands of almond trees in the arid southwestern Central Valley during a severe drought with no guarantee there will be enough water to keep them alive—consumer demand for our exported nuts and pot.
We’re looking at the extirpation of Coho in a number of watersheds of the South Fork Eel and Mattole Rivers as a result of drought, greed and ignorance. While most of the state argues and frets over green lawns, cold showers, almonds, alfalfa, fracking, Nestle bottled water, the Delta tunnels, 6 smelt and climate change another race of Coho salmon may have passed the point of no return.
As a crop cannabis is not the water hungry plant a recent misinformed CDFW quasi-scientific study claims it is. In southern Humboldt County a skilled farmer can produce a pound of product with 320 gallons of water that has a dispensary retail value of $3,200 if sold by the ounce. That sure beats the hell out of almonds.
The only banned crop in California I can think of that we’re “used” to is industrial hemp that hasn’t been grown since World War II.
I love real expertise. Thanks.
I’ll defend the analogy a little: pot cannot be openly grown as the other ag crops are. A farmer in the valley isn’t considering ‘tomatoes, eggplants, table corn or pot this year?’
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed another perspective on the California water crisis. I certainly enjoy yours.
“pot cannot be openly grown as the other ag crops are”
Hmmm, you can drive down almost any back road in southern Humboldt county right now and see big commercial greenhouses out in the open. No one is doing it on prime ag land down in the lower Eel river valley, but why bother when you can just truck in the soil to a piece of cut over timberland that isn’t worth much. (As I have been writing this I occasionally hear/feel big trucks on the dirt road near my cabin which is several miles from the paved county road.)
The first planting of the year is already in the greenhouses which have big blackout tarps for light deprivation growing (manipulate the light cycle and it forces the bloom early and saves water too) That crop will be harvested in early July right about the time the stream flows become worrisome.
Climb aboard the Google Earth spaceship and take a tour of my neighborhood: https://youtu.be/Ewv5xeI4uug it’s a little dated, 2012, but you get the idea that contemporary pot growing is out in the open and it ain’t pretty. These aren’t the hippie pot patches of yesteryear.
One of those grows in that video was less than a mile from me as the raven flies, but 6 months after a surprise inspection by multiple agencies armed with warrants it was served with an abatement order from the Water Board. Restoration began in late 2013 to beat the rains that didn’t come. It had zero water storage other than a small log and dirt dam across a feeder creek diverting the entire flow. This is only one of thousands of egregious grows that was dealt with. It took multiple state agencies, law enforcement deputies, district attorney staff—a small army of people to generate one abatement order, negotiate with the landowner and his attorney, monitor the restoration contractors and now periodically monitor compliance to ensure the erosion checks hold and the plantings don’t die. It probably cost the owners one year’s profit to comply, they have in effect “fallowed” that parcel and they just moved operations to another piece of land in a running shell game. No fines, no marijuana was present at the time of inspection, so no felony case on cultivation. In the end it was probably cheaper on the taxpayers than arrests, trials, incarcerations, probation management and property seizure, which would have done nothing to clean up the site in a timely manner that helped the fish down the hill in the spawning creek.
All this aside, I think I understand your point OTPR that a farmer in the Central Valley facing curtailed water delivery can’t just decide to put in an acre of high value sinsemilla on his land and then run it down to the processor at harvest where it will be dried and trimmed, tested for molds and toxic residues, graded and packaged for delivery to the retailers within a regulatory system that tracks each gram from seed or clone to the consumer. However, in central Washington state newly minted and permitted farmers I know are doing a version of that scenario right now on reclaimed apple orchard lands, albeit behind the required 8 foot high view-blocking chainlink fences, with expertise imported from California’s Emerald Triangle. Bonus: no water shortage there. We desperately need that here in California—the benefits are immense.
I deliberately didn’t mention trespass growing previously, aka cartel grows, on industrial timberland, public land or tribal land because they’re a different beast. The only two solutions to that problem is eradication by well-armed law enforcement, expensive and dangerous, and nationwide legalization that will take the incentive out of the Black Market. The harms trespass grows cause are even worse because they use banned poisons to build what I call “toxic fences” to protect the plants from deer and wood rats, killing endangered owls and fishers among other species that then eat the poisoned, but not yet dead wood rats. A trespass grow becomes a wildlife dead zone. They also divert enormous amounts of water from salmon bearing streams, much higher per plant amounts than a typical grow in the cooler coastal region where farmers use good soil and other water conserving practices.
Gosh, now I’m imagining what fun a clandestine almond industry would be!
Right? Sneaking out to the national forest to tend your illicitly planted 50 almond trees? The Forest Service doing helicopter runs during the bloom to spot the white patches? “We’ve spotted a patch, definitely nonpareils. Call in the SWAT team.”