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Waterboarding Weed



California's water board is making a bid to become the state's strictest marijuana regulator.

Following cultivation site visits earlier this year, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed a system to register nearly every outdoor grower in Northern California.

The regulatory program, as drafted, would require registration — including names and an annual fee — from growers whose properties utilize drainage features, stream crossings, water diversion or storage, or fertilizers, and whose grows produce irrigation runoff, waste and domestic wastewater. While the order will exempt grows of fewer than 6 mature or 12 immature plants, it's hard to imagine an outdoor grow that doesn't feature at least one of the impacts listed as a "controllable water quality factor."

The move is a response to a region "inundated with marijuana cultivation" and improper development on private rural properties, according to the board, which uses the federal Clean Water Act and state laws to frame its proposed guidelines.

Operators and property owners of cultivation sites would be responsible for registering grows, which would be categorized in three tiers. Tier One grows would be considered "low risk," with cultivation areas under 2,000 square feet at least 200 feet from surface water, gradual slopes and no water diversion between May 15 and October 31.

Tier Two growers would implement a water resource protection plan, and Tier Three sites would require "cleanup, restoration and/or remediation based on current or past land development/management activities."

All tiers would require enrollment and payment of an annual fee, and be subject to administrative penalties if growers fall out of compliance. The board anticipates a conciliatory approach in the beginning of implementation, with outreach to growers and industry organizations to encourage voluntary compliance. With an estimated 4,000 large-scale grows in Humboldt County alone, it's unclear exactly how many farmers will be sending in their registration.

That approach has worked in the early stages of a site-visit pilot program that the state water board launched in January, with Sproul Creek growers eager to hear what they needed to come into compliance, according to state officials. Should the board meet "recalcitrant" growers, the draft report says, enforcement, including administrative penalties and required waste discharge reports, could follow.

The proposal is still in draft form, and the water board is holding an eight-hour public workshop this Thursday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka. Comments on the proposal will be accepted through June 8. Visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast or find this story at www.northcoastjournal.com for links to the entire proposed draft and more information.


Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors agreed unanimously to sign a six-county letter urging state legislators to ensure local control over the cultivation, production and sale of marijuana should recreational, or adult-use, weed go legal in 2016.

Supervisors Mark Lovelace and Estelle Fennell represented the county at a March summit in Santa Rosa, meeting with lawmakers from Del Norte, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma and Trinity counties to discuss their "unique insight into the significant problems and opportunities" posed by legalization and regulation.

Saying that marijuana's economic, environmental and cultural effects vary widely from region to region, the counties called for Sacramento lawmakers to listen to small communities when it comes to developing licensing, taxation, land use and environmental regulations.

Without the statement, Fennell said, "we might wind up with the kind of legislation that might be very deleterious to our environment — to every aspect of our life in Humboldt County. ... We're making a powerful statement and I think it will be heard."

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