In northern California, an area long known to be a center of legal and illegal marijuana farming, local officials requested help from the state to address the rising issue of water pollution resulting from unregulated pot farms. Their request was denied.
Marijuana farmers illegally bulldoze hillsides in the creation of their grow operations. Local officials are worried that the harmful sediments and chemicals used on the plants may be polluting the rivers and streams in the region, and hoped to regulate marijuana farms under federal and state clean water regulations. But the state agency charged with regulating protection of the water in the area concluded that such an operation would be too dangerous for its employees.
“We simply cannot, in good conscience, put staff in harm’s way,” wrote Paula Creedon, Executive Director of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“This is out of our expertise. It’s not the kind of thing we do,” said Andrew Altevogt, the agency’s assistant executive officer.
The number of marijuana farms in the region is rapidly increasing. Some farms are run by licensed collectives growing pot legally under California’s medical marijuana laws. Others, however, are run by traffickers and dangerous Mexican cartel operatives, sometimes with armed guards patrolling their perimeters. Some of the illegal operations divert creeks, destroy wilderness, and poison wildlife in the process of growing marijuana.
Bill Connelly, the Butte County Supervisor Chairman, criticized the Board for not applying the water laws equally, even after photographs surfaced of marijuana farms with illegally scraped and terraced hillsides in sensitive watersheds.
“My concern is that legitimate business people get harassed (by the agency), but illegal people will not be harassed because they get a pass. They go after the timber industry and farmers,” Connelly said.
Marijuana is California’s most valuable cash crop, creating an estimated $14 billion in legal and illegal sales each year. As the number of farms increases, Assembly Member Dan Logue (R-Loma Rica) argues, keeping streams, creeks, and rivers free of chemicals and toxins has become problem state-wide. He has requested meetings with Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, as well as help from the board, to address the issue directly.
“This has to be fixed,” said Logue in an interview. “We have an issue in the state where agencies are fearful, and the law isn’t being applied equally.”