SoHum residents got their first taste of a new enforcement regimen targeting the environmental impacts of marijuana grows last week.
It was hardly jackboots and black helicopters, according to State Water Board enforcer Cris Carrigan, who developed the pilot enforcement program with other state and local agencies (See "A Big Stick," Oct. 23, 2014).
Representatives from Fish and Wildlife, the California Water Board, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and a county code inspector obtained administrative warrants for 14 properties in the Sproul Creek watershed, and visited them over the course of three days.
Most property owners, Carrigan said, let the inspectors onto their properties with consent. Others were served with the warrant, which allowed inspectors to look for damage from grows. "Two people who were just hanging around watching us asked us to come look at their properties," Carrigan said. "I was just really pleased with the level of engagement and cooperation of cannabis growers with inspectors."
No arrests were made, and no plants were chopped down — the focus, Carrigan said, has to be on the water violations. Sheriff's deputies were there to ensure the civilian inspectors were safe, he said.
The Sproul Creek watershed was targeted first because it's home to five salmonid species, including Coho, and it dried up last year, Carrigan said. Inspectors found a variety of problems, but the most common issues were sediment discharge from unstable grading and stream diversions that were unpermitted and unsafe for fish.
"Their properties ranged from kind of a mess to a pretty big mess to almost in compliance," Carrigan said. "Some were in compliance by accident."
Carrigan said the agencies were encouraged by the openness of the cannabis cultivators in the first week of inspections.
"Many of them are longtime property owners. They want their properties to conserve good value — they're reasonably good stewards of the land."
In 13 months, Arcata nearly paid off the cost of implementing the city's high electricity use tax.
Through November, 2014, PG&E collected just over $500,000 for Arcata through the tax, which was voted into effect by residents a couple years ago and intended to reduce the number of residential marijuana grows.
Revenue from the tax fell short of projections, likely due to the "green flight" that occurred after the tax passed but before it went into effect. But enough residential meters are still sucking high amounts of energy that it appears the city will begin to profit from the tax soon.
Environmental Services Director Mark Andre says electricity use appears to be down in the residential sector citywide — most drastically among the meters affected by the tax.
"But other factors such as weather patterns play into energy use as well so a couple years of data to [analyze] would be better before we have confidence in the trends," Andre wrote in an email.
Two Eureka men pleaded guilty to growing marijuana and damaging public land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest before a federal judge earlier this month.
Isidro Alcazar-Tapia, 25, and Arturo Alcazar-Tapia, 21, were arrested in Eureka last August with 33 pounds of marijuana and cash. Law enforcement linked the brothers to more than 20,000 plants in the Big French Creek and Hobo Gulch areas of the national forest, according to a press release, where they found "hundreds of holes dug in the dirt containing soluble fertilizer, bags of trash, empty fertilizer bags, propane tanks, and water lines diverting water from a stream."
The brothers each face a possible sentence of five to 40 years in prison and up to a $5 million fine for conspiring to manufacture marijuana; as well as fines and prison time for additional charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced in April.