TU, TNC, CalTrout endorse State actions to control impacts of medical marijuana cultivation on California streams

June 30, 2016



SACRAMENTO Leading conservation groups today endorsed unprecedented actions by the Brown Administration and the California Legislature to control impacts of medical marijuana cultivation on the States streams and rivers. The actions are included in one of the Legislatures Budget Trailer Bills, Senate Bill 837 (SB 837), signed by the Governor.

The substantial environmental impacts associated with marijuana cultivation put the health of Californias land, water supply, and wildlife in jeopardyand the amount of water used in marijuana cultivation is especially concerning during this historic drought.

Based upon filings with state agencies, it is anticipated that as many as 50,000 outdoor medical marijuana cultivation permits could be issued across dozens of high priority watersheds. Marijuana irrigation techniques can dry up rivers and streams; pesticides and other chemicals used can poison wildlife and pollute public waterways; and clear cutting and land clearing destroy wildlife habitat and cause serious erosion.

SB 837 provides specific new legal authorities for the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to withhold issuance of medical marijuana permits unless specific water reporting, monitoring, and measuring of cultivation impacts are built into the permit conditions. Without such permits, growers will not be able to participate in Californias medical marijuana industry.

California is at a major crossroads, said Jay Ziegler, Director of External Affairs and Policy of The Nature Conservancys California Chapter. The actions of the Legislature and the Brown Administration may be our last chance to protect rare fish and wildlife and avoid seeing our rivers and streams contaminated and dried up from marijuana cultivation. The proposed actions of the Brown Administration represent a huge step forward in recognizing and stopping the negative consequences we are seeing from this industry.

We can no longer live with the on-going impacts to fragile salmon and trout from marijuana cultivation, said Brian J. Johnson, California Director for Trout Unlimited. Todays actions direct the state to establish streamflow standards and develop tools for working with growers who play by the rules and an enforcement framework for those who wont.

This new legal authority enables the State to address a growing and existing threat to the environment and to senior water rights, said Curtis Knight, Executive Director of California Trout. Thousands of medical marijuana farms are in existence now, and they are diverting water that is needed by fish and people during the dry season. This new authority empowers the state to require marijuana operations to change their water management in ways that make more water available for the environment and protects existing water rights holders.

Together, the conservation groups underscored that the growing impacts of marijuana cultivation on both coastal rivers and inland streams. The Nature Conservancy completed an analysis last year based upon input from state and federal wildlife agencies and found that it would cost at least $120 million a year over five years to address impacts of marijuana cultivation.

The reforms included in SB 837 will require a medical marijuana permittee to do the following:

  • Identify volume and sources of water to support specific grow operations;
  • Halt harmful diversion practices from rivers and streams;
  • Protect adequate flows for fish and wildlife under all conditions, but especially during low flow periods in summer and fall;
  • Monitor and report on permit compliance conditions.

SB 837 also directs SWRCB to establish instream flow standards for marijuana cultivation on an accelerated basis. The new legislation breaks through existing barriers to developing flow standards by directing the SWRCB to set interim streamflow standards based on the best available science, with a clear process for public input.

The interim streamflow authority will enable SWRCB to limit harmful diversions by marijuana growers without delay, and to create guidelines for issuing permits to cultivators that require off-stream storage as an alternative to dry season diversions.

We have sufficient science to know that switching from summer to winter diversion can produce benefits to salmon and steelhead while ensuring adequate winter flows to maintain a functioning river, commented Jeanette Howard, Associate Director of Freshwater Science at The Nature Conservancy.

The authority in the bill to set interim streamflow standards is directed only to diversions for medical marijuana. The bill does not address other types of water use.