California lawmakers have approved a streamlined permitting process that would allow marijuana growers to divert water from streams.
Water regulators say the new permitting requirement is designed to make it easier for environmental regulators to protect streams and fisheries from the effects of marijuana growing operations.
But Republican Assemblyman Brian Dahle says it allows marijuana growers to bypass the state’s toughest environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA.
“This bill allows cannabis growers to check boxes off, pay $5,000 and divert water without doing a CEQA permit," says Dahle. "The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Center for Biological Diversity, should score this bill.”
But water regulators say the move is not a "get out of jail free" card for marijuana growers.
“We’re exercising our regular enforcement discretion and regulatory oversight over these parties. It is not by any means a free pass,” says Cris Carrigan, with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Office of Enforcement.
State water regulators say other agricultural interests will benefit when marijuana growers comply with new requirements rather than illegally diverting water, sometimes until the streams go dry.