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Water Woes: Growers Get Caught Up in State Water Regulations

Jan 19, 2018

As states continue to move forward and legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana, farmers in particular are starting to realize there is more than one hurdle to cross. Among them, California growers, riding on the high of legalized recreational marijuana, are facing a regulation nightmare. There is a minimum of 17 licenses pertaining to just the cultivation of marijuana, many of which depend on whether or not the plant is grown indoors or outdoors.

Why does it matter?

Because outdoor growing consumes more water than hemp or cannabis grown indoors, or inside a regulated greenhouse.

Water shortage is a very real thing in the western part of the United States. California, Oregon, Colorado, and Montana are all on the side of the country where water use is more profound and more regulated than anywhere else in the US. These are also states where the cultivation of industrial hemp and/or marijuana is legal. And farmers in these states are fighting for their right to access clean water for their crops.

So how much water does marijuana and hemp actually use?

According to a study completed by scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the cannabis plant consumes an estimated 6 gallons of water per day. This averages out to about 180,000 gallons of water per farm per day. To put it into perspective – the United States uses 410 billion gallons of water every day, and 90% of that is for agriculture and irrigation in the Western States alone. 

It appears as though California was the only state to consider the water when it developed its state-wide cannabis regulations. Their regulations go as so far as to address the environmental repercussions of run-off water while Oregon, on the other hand, just needs proof of a water provider to issue a license. Exceedingly lax regulations like these underscore the gaping holes in the state water laws meant to protect the economy and the environment.

Because hemp and cannabis is federally illegal, growers wishing to irrigate their farms must do so without touching water from any federal water projects. During a drought, or in a state where water use is strictly regulated, growers are not guaranteed irrigation. In Montana, farmer Kimberly Phillips saw 12 acres of her crop suffer when the US government blocked her water access. 

In retaliation, Senator Steve Daines and Senator Jon Tester of Montana teamed up with Oregon and Colorado state senators to create the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act. This bill would help protect farmers’ access to water when they are cultivating hemp or cannabis in a state where it is legal to do so. “Private landowners should be able to use their water to grow industrial hemp, regardless of whether the water passed through federal water projects,” Senator Daines told a local Oregon news station shortly after the bill was announced. 

Another hearing on behalf of these farmers is scheduled for February 15. In the meantime, farmers in these states have to be patient for another month before they get their water. But waiting around like this is almost detrimental to the state’s economy. The cannabis industry is growing too fast, and farmers need to act just as quickly if they want to reap the economic benefits of cannabis and industrial hemp.

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