Illegal marijuana farms take rare water in the west | Work

La Pine, Oregon (AP) —Jack Dwyer pursued his dream of returning to land in 1972 by moving to an idyllic, tree-studded plot of Oregon, where streams flow.

“We were trying to grow our food. We were going to live a righteous life. We were going to grow organically,” Dwyer said. Over the next few decades, he and his family did just that.

But now, Dia Creek has been depleted after some illegal marijuana grew in the neighborhood last spring, stealing water from both the stream and the nearby aquifer, questioning the future of Dwyer.

From dusty towns to forests in the western United States, illegal marijuana growers drink uncontrollable amounts of water when even licensed users are often not enough to turn around.Water conflicts have existed for a long time, but illegal marijuana farms that are growing despite being legalized in many western states are becoming more tense. During a severe drought..

According to the University of California, Berkeley Cannabis Research Center, California, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, still has more cannabis farms that are more illegal than licensed ones.

“Peak cannabis water demand occurs during the dry season, when stream flow is at its lowest level, so even a small detour can dry a stream and harm aquatic plants and animals.” Research from the center Said.

Some jurisdictions are fighting back. In May, a supervisory board in Siscu County, California banned trucks carrying more than 100 gallons of roads leading to arid areas where about 2,000 illegal marijuana are grown.

The county ordinance states that illegal cultivation “depletes valuable groundwater and surface water resources” and jeopardizes the use of water for agriculture, recreation and housing.

In Oregon, the number of illegal growth seems to have increased recently as Pacific Northwest endured it. The driest spring since 1924..

Mark Petinger, a spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Cannabis Commission, said many are operating under the guise of cannabis farms and have been legalized nationwide under the 2018 Farm Bill. Under the law, the maximum THC content of hemp (compounds that give high values ​​to cannabis) should not exceed 0.3%. Hemp fibers are used in the manufacture of ropes, garments, paper and other products.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel believes that the counties in southern Oregon alone have hundreds of illegal cultivations, many of which are funded by foreign funds. He believes financial firms are hoping to lose some growth, but the sheer number of them means that marijuana is harvested and sold in the black market outside Oregon. It means that much will continue until.

No new site is allowed to grow recreational marijuana, Pettinger said. Faced with a backlog of license applications and an excess of regulated marijuana in 2019, regulators stopped processing new applications until January 2022.

According to Daniel, illegal cultivation has had “catastrophic” consequences for natural water resources. Some streams dry much faster than normal, lowering the water table (the underground boundary between water-saturated and unsaturated soils).

“It’s just a blatant theft of water,” Daniel said.

Last month, Daniel and his agent destroyed 72,000 marijuana plants growing in 400 cheaply built greenhouses known as hoop houses, reinforced by other law enforcement officers.

Water for these plants was supplied via a makeshift illegal system between pumps and hoses from the nearby Illinois River, which belongs to the wild and scenic river system created by Congress.

Daniel said another illegal cultivation, where 200,000 plants were planted, uses pumps and pipes to pump water from Dia Creek. He called it “one of the most blatant and ugly things I’ve seen.”

“They were actually digging deep into the ground, so the Dia Creek was dry … and they were falling to the water table,” the sheriff said.

Dwyer has water rights to Dia Creek near the Selma community, which allows him to grow crops. Streams can dry up later in the year, but Dwyer has never seen it dry so much.

The riverbed is now a rocky road surrounded by brushes and trees.

For decades, Dwire has created infrastructure for buried water pipes, dozen taps, and irrigation systems connected to streams to grow vegetables and protect homes from wildfires. He uses an old well for domestic water, but it’s unclear how long it will last.

“I don’t know what to do if I don’t have water,” said a 75-year-old retired junior high school teacher.

Marijuana has been cultivated in southern Oregon for decades, but the recent huge explosion of illegal cultivation has shocked the population.

The soil and water conservation area of ​​the Illinois Valley, where Dwyer lives, recently hosted two city halls on this issue. Water theft was a major concern, said Christopher Hall, a community organizer in the protected area.

“People in the Illinois Valley are experiencing existential threats for the first time in local history,” Hall said.

In the high deserts of central Oregon, illegal marijuana producers are already using very stressful water supplies, causing many farmers to run short of water this year, including those who produce 60% of the world’s carrot seed supply. Facing

On September 2, Deschutes County authorities raided 30 acres (12 hectares) of land in Alfalfa, just east of Bend. It featured a complex water supply system with 49 greenhouses containing nearly 10,000 marijuana plants and several 15,000-20,000 gallon water tanks. Neighbors told detectives that illegal growth forced them to drill new wells, Sheriff Shane Nelson said.

The Bend region is experiencing a population boom and demand for water supply is increasing. Illegal growth is exacerbating the situation.

In Lapine, south of Bend, Roger Jinx saw the crew drilling a new well on his property. The first sign that his existing well had failed was when the pressure dropped when he watered the lawn in the small vestibule. Excavator Shane Harris estimated that the water table is dropping 6 inches (15 centimeters) annually.

Last November, a sheriff’s agent raided illegal cultivation one block away, where there were 500 marijuana plants.

Jim Hooper, Jinx’s neighbor, is worried that his well will fail next. He is resentful of illegal growth and their uncontrolled use of water.

“We can’t track it because of the illegal activity,” Hooper said. “They are only stealing water from the rest of us, which causes us to spend thousands of dollars drilling deeper into new wells.”

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter. https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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Follow AP’s full drought coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/droughts

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