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Another Result of California's Drought: Water Theft for Illegal Weed Farms

It takes a lot of water to grow one plant, but that's not the only issue at hand.

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As if the drought isn’t hard enough on farmers and residents in California, now they have to contend with water theft — from illegal marijuana growers.

In one recent huge drug bust, 131 people were arrested, and more than 33,000 pounds of weed, dozens of firearms, and 65 vehicles were seized. Two of those vehicles were water trucks. 

Why does an illegal marijuana grower need such a truck? Apparently to carry all the water they get from tapping into fire hydrants and drilling unauthorized wells. 

Because weed needs water

Marijuana plants, like any crop, require a lot of water — about as much as tomatoes but 33 times less than almonds, say the authors of one recent study. But cannabis farms are generally much smaller than industrial farms, and with a lesser footprint, the legal industry accounts for a fraction of water used by California agriculture overall.

With so many unlicensed growers, however, it’s estimated approximately 1.2 billion gallons of water has been stolen in the last two years, according to Gizmodo. That’s approximately the same as 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day,” Curt Fallin, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s associate special agent in charge, said in a news release. And that’s just part of the problem

A much bigger impact

In addition to water theft connected to these illegal grow operations in the Antelope Valley, for instance, they discovered trafficking and smuggling of people, trespassing, and threatening residents, according to one L.A. County supervisor. The environmental impact alone, with the pollution of waterways affecting fish and wildlife, is something else to consider.

With the drought gripping the entire West Coast, from the Pacific Northwest to the southern border and into the Southwest, water issues are always top of mind. There are forever debates about water rights and the environmental impact from avocado and almond farms, ranching, and huge corporations bottling water from aquifers. Adding marijuana to the list makes the industry even more legit in a way. The big question is how to fix the problem, and that maybe it's much bigger than water.