California’s worst drought in years has affected every kind of industry in the state, and that appears to include illegal marijuana cultivation as well. State wildlife officials say that two men have been arrested for diverting water from the lower Vicente Creek, the lowermost salmon stream in California, to grow plants on private land. Experts are still investigating the amount of damage and pollution done to the waterway, which supports a population of steelhead and endangered Central Coast Coho salmon.
“Illegal marijuana growers steal substantial amounts of water, exacerbating our severe drought conditions,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Assistant Chief Brian Naslund. “Marijuana plants use six to eight gallons of water per plant, per day, and are a direct hazard to wildlife that eats the plants.”
DFW officers, alongside local law enforcement, raided the grow site last week and found 180 mature marijuana plants valued at over $360,000. Officers also captured two male suspects along with a supply of hashish, fertilizer, and harmful chemicals used in the production of the plants.
“These marijuana cultivation sites are not only illegal but the trash left behind causes tremendous damage to the environment,” said Naslund. “Our officers are working hard around the state to find and remove these cultivation sites, keep harmful chemicals from entering state waters and ensure public safety.”
DFW officials told KCET that the hazardous materials may have already leaked into the water and to make matters worse, the suspects have cleared out vegetation from the site, meaning that the next rainfall will wash the caustic chemicals and silt into the creek. It is believed that the marijuana operation may have diverted as much as 1,400 gallons of water from San Vicente Creek per day.
The CDFW stated that the two suspects currently in police custody are now looking at charges of streambed alteration, pollution, and placement of hazardous material on private property. The suspects will also face marijuana charges.
Police believe that it took more than two men to run the operation and are now currently looking for other suspects. The DFW warns that illegal grow sites like this one could be dangerous to hikers and anglers since growers are often armed. Wildlife officials advise anyone who stumbles into a cultivation site to immediately leave and report the incident to law enforcement.
Image courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife