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Illegal Marijuana Operations Divert Scarce Water in California

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Illegal marijuana operations are diverting precious water in California, The New York Times reports. The state announced a drought emergency in January.

Cultivation of marijuana is legal in California, although it is subject to many restrictions, according to the newspaper. Marijuana plants require a large amount of water to grow. A marijuana plant uses between five to 10 gallons of water, compared with 3.5 gallons for a head of lettuce, another one of the state’s major crops.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife used Google Earth images to estimate that outdoor marijuana cultivation in two counties, Mendocino and Humboldt, doubled between 2009 and 2012. The effect has been disastrous, the agency says.

Some marijuana growers are careful to minimize water use, the article notes. Others use large amounts of water to make plants as robust as possible, because of countywide restrictions on the number of marijuana plants.

“Old hippies are not our problem — old hippies get it,” said Sheriff Thomas D. Allman of Mendocino County. “They’re going organic; they’re doing water reduction.” So are “young hippies,” he said. “I’m talking about people that move here in April, grow marijuana as fast as they can until October. The 20-year-old kid who wants to make his million bucks, and he’s using these steroid fertilizers. He doesn’t care about how much water he uses, or what he puts in the soil.”

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