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State Targets Illegal Water Diversions By Marijuana Growers

Andrew Hughan / Calif. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
 

Andrew Hughan / Calif. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

The drought legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month gives the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife new authority to crack down on illegal diversions of water by marijuana growers. A state study shows those diversions are hurting the environment.

It’s legal to grow marijuana in California, but only if a grower obtains the proper water permits. And many don’t.

Scott Bauer with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s watershed enforcement team says growers simply take whatever water they need – one diversion at a time.

“You have 50, 100 of those points of diversion,” Bauer says, “and the cumulative effect is that they dry up all these little streams that feed into these bigger streams and essentially consume all the water” which prevents fish from migrating.

Bauer says the new emergency drought legislation gives his team a powerful new tool. It allows the department to fine water rights violators up to $8,000 a day. He’s hoping that will convince marijuana growers to get their water diversion permits – and not take water from streams during the summer.