SEP 16, 2015 4:39 AM PDT

Is Weed Sucking California Dry?

The drought in California continues to be a problem for agriculture, businesses and environmental concerns. As it enters its fourth year, recent studies show that the state is the driest it’s been in over 500 years.  Rivers are gone leaving cracked earth where there was once rushing water.  The snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains would normally feed rivers and streams allowing plants and trees to flourish, but it’s too low.
 
The weather of course cannot be controlled, but some environmentalists are warning that one of the biggest dangers to the drought is the marijuana crop and action needs to be taken on the impact it has.  The August issue of the journal BioScience published an article by Jennifer K. Carah et al about the problem and its effect on the severe drought conditions. 

Carah, an environmental biologist with the Nature Conservancy, told the Christian Science Monitor
 “People call it the green rush. The kinds of damage we see now are really similar to the kinds of damage associated with unregulated timber harvesting in the early to mid 1900s.”
 
The problem is complex, but as with anything, the money matters. Pot is California’s number one cash crop. Even if the estimates are hard to quantify, every source puts pot revenue anywhere from $11 billion to $17 billion annually. Conflicting regulations at the state and Federal levels make it difficult to enforce violations of environmental standards. California has legalized marijuana for medical use, however Federal law prohibits the cultivation of marijuana plants anywhere in the United States. 
 
The US Department of Justice estimates that anywhere from 60-70% of the pot sold across the country comes from California and growth of the sought-after plant is impacting an ecosystem in that state that is already perilously close to shutting down. In a state where water is already scarce, growing weed puts an undue strain on the watershed. The crop is normally grown from June to October and this is the same time of year that lakes and streams are already low. In a study published in the March issue of the journal PLOS One, authored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,  the cultivation of marijuana increased by as much as 104% and calculations showed that the amount of water needed to complete one growing season of pot would exceed the amount of water that is even available in streams and rivers. There simply is not enough water flowing to support the crop.
 
There are other environmental concerns as well. Pesticides, the loss of habitats and the erosion of the land around marijuana fields are all factors that are contributing to the drought and are not belng dealt with efficiently by lawmakers and conservationists. The secrecy surrounding the crop doesn’t help. Growers, even those operating legally, are hesitant to comply with voluntary environmental certification programs. Nobody wants to be on the radar, and so the problem continues.
 
In her interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Carah stated that while the earmarking of $3.3 million by Governor Jerry Brown for enforcement and regulation was a start, estimates are that it will take $120 million dollars and five years to do everything that needs to be done. Carah said, "Three million dollars a year is a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go."
 
Take a look at the video below to learn more about the impact marijuana plants are having on the California drought.


 
 
 
 
 
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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