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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Watering the Emerald Triangle: Irrigation sources used by cannabis cultivators in Northern California

  • Author(s): Dillis, Christopher
  • Grantham, Theodore E
  • McIntee, Connor
  • McFadin, Bryan
  • Grady, Kason
  • et al.

Water use by cannabis cultivators represents an emerging threat to surface flows in Northern California's sensitive watersheds. To date, however, no data has been available to formally assess where cannabis sites source their water. This study analyzed data from annual reports, covering the year 2017, submitted by 901 cannabis cultivators enrolled in the Cannabis Waste Discharge Regulatory Program administered by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The analysis identified cannabis cultivators' most common sources for water extraction, monthly patterns for each water source and differences between sites compliant and not compliant with the cannabis program. The most commonly reported source of water was wells (58% of sites), with most extraction from wells occurring during the growing season (April through October). Surface water diversions (22% of sites) and spring diversions (16% of sites) were the most common sources after wells, with extractions from these sources distributed much more evenly across the year. Although nearly one-third of noncompliant sites (33%) used wells, this source was more than twice as frequently reported among compliant sites (68%), indicating that wells may become increasingly common as more sites become part of the regulated cannabis industry.

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