Brought forward from the comments, for people interested in agricultural pot production. I don’t actually have a dog in this fight. I want to have something to trade for water rights reform, and legal pot production seems like a good option. But it isn’t topic I know much about or care deeply about one way or the other. I am lucky to have readers that know more than I.
Uti wrote in the comments:
I can tell you from direct experience that cannabis is not the water thirsty crop it’s made out to be. The CDF&W says in their 2014 study (Bauer,et al.) that water use averages 6 to 10 gallons a day per plant for the entire growing season of 120-150 days. That’s pure bunk because if you used that much water on the plants in the early vegetative state it would drown the roots and kill the plant. DFW’s cites two sources in their study, a book by a SoCal High Times magazine writer (eye roll unavoidable) and a white paper presented to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors in 2010 that mirrored the 99 plant Medical Marijuana ordinance in neighboring Mendocino County in which the objective of the grower was to maximize the size of the plants—if the limitation of the law is numbers of plants then you maximize your production with huge plants that were capable of producing 7+ pounds of dried flower (that program was shut down by the U.S. attorney who threatened to go after elected oficials). Typical outdoor grown plants in the hills of the Emerald Triangle produce 1 to 2 pounds of dried flower. Greenhouse and light deprivation grown plants are different. Smaller plants = less water needed.
The point here is that the water needs of cannabis has not been scientifically measured and documented, largely because no one is asking for the science and I’m sure the agricultural universities are intimidated by the federal government. That needs to change. Given the economic value of the crop it warrants study.
The water per plant metric just doesn’t work because of too many variables. The metric that does work is gallons per day per pound of dried flower, which is more in line with traditional agriculture. To that end a group of growers who are advocating legalization and regulation have done their own study and for an outdoor grown plant producing 2 pounds in Mendocino-Southern Humboldt grown with best practices water use works out to a ratio of 1:1:1 one gallon or water per day per pound for the entire cultivation cycle.
But for right now the old prohibitionist mentality is controlling the narrative and they’re telling everyone marijuana is a thirsty crop that’s killing the salmon bearing watersheds. People who live and grow marijuana in the Triangle counties cynically dismiss the news as just more Drug War rhetoric, a move by law enforcement to continue to justify their budgets, their expensive toys of war and overtime.
Living in the Emerald Triangle I couldn’t disagree more with consolidating and moving pot production to large Valley farms. Where water is concerned what we lack is taxpayer subsidized water infrastructure to deliver irrigation water from mountains and rivers far away, while in fact we export water from the Eel, the upper Klamath and Trinity rivers to agriculture and urban consumers. What that means is that for farmers in the mountainous North Coast everyone must provide for their own supply. And there’s the whole rub because up until the runaway expansion of cultivation of the past 6 or so years the abundant springs and creeks in the hills could provide enough water throughout the summer without negatively impacting the spawning creeks, so there was no incentive to invest in storage. So what’s making pot farmers up here out to be the bad guys is not storing water in the winter and diverting water during the growing season during record drought. Large tanks and ponds can fix that and be filled with winter runoff at no cost to the salmonids.
Remember we are a water rich region because we are the wettest spot in California receiving 60 to over 100 inches in normal years. Even in this past drought winter I recorded 61 inches in southern Humboldt up from the 2013-2014 winter’s 48 inches. Even in a drought I was able to collect and store a combination of rain and spring water to last me the whole summer without having to take the entire flow of the small spring that feeds the surface water that empties into a spawning creek at the bottom of the ridge.
We don’t need huge growers for the state’s pot supply. I prefer the model of wine grape growing with appellations because of it’s diversity and many producers. There are just too many varieties of the plant with different qualities to turn it into corporate swill Budweiser. A lot of other people who grow pot and benefit from the industry agree with me and that was one of our messages to Lt. Governor Newsome when he brought his Blue Ribbon panel to Garberville. The climate here is ideal for growing the plant since it thrives with warm days and cool nights, though it will tolerate a fairly broad range of climate conditions like most successful weeds. There’s more than enough space to support smaller growers. And the area now has third generation pot farmers.
So the bottom line is the negative impacts of commercial pot growing in the Emerald Triangle are not insurmountable. The rest of the state should be so lucky.