Illegal Marijuana gardeners in northern California and southern Oregon are endangering fish populations by siphoning off millions of gallons of water from rivers each year.
According to NOAA Fisheries Service, coho salmon (listed as a threatened species since 1997) are in greater jeopardy than ever. The water theft adds to pre-existing pressures on their habitat and breeding grounds from urban development, agriculture, overfishing, logging and dams.
A recovery plan has been put forth by the federal biologists, who propose calculating the exact impact in terms of quantity of water currently withdrawn, and then intervening to decrease theft.
Depending on where a marijuana plant is in its life cycle, it can consume between five and 10 gallons of water.
Marijuana is grown legally for medical purposes in California, yet farms cultivating pot for the black market are widespread. In clearing patches of forests to create covert plantations, they are contributing to water pollution through causing increased runoff. With less tree and bush cover to slow water trickle, fertilizer, pesticides and sediment are spreading to rivers faster than ever.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has an ongoing investigation into rat poison scattered around illegal grow sites.
Scott Bauer, environmental scientist on the watershed enforcement team of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and lead author of the study, wants to impose fines for illegal water withdrawals.
“We need regulation that’s going to make sense to the farmers on the ground… that is also going to achieve the public safety and environmental goals that we all share,” he said.