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Friday, March 13, 2009

Pot Growers Wreak Havoc on North Coast Streams and Fish Populations

excerpted from from spring 2009 issue of Terrain, Northern California’s Environmental Magazine

for full story:

The Long Thirst

At a meeting in Mendocino County’s town of Willits in late October, what seems a fairly narrow topic—illegal water diversion on public lands—rapidly transmogrifies into a frightening evening of dying fish, dry rivers, and out-of-control toxic algae. On that chilly night, the event attracts more than a hundred people covered in fleece outer garments, many wanting to pick a bone with state regulators. It turns out at least one of the speakers has the same agenda....

...Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman supplies the local picture, noting that the county’s per capita sales of rat poison are the highest in the nation; growers buy rat poison by the pallet because watering the grow sites attracts rodents. This poison ultimately contaminates the soil and creeks while poisoning raptors and other animals that eat the dead vermin. DTO growers also routinely shoot wildlife.

Most of all, they consume water. “As you go downstream on the Eel, the river should grow,” says Allman. “Instead, it gets smaller because people are pumping into storage tanks and directly into gardens.” Allman estimates that 3.6 million pot plants are grown on public lands—“That’s 3.6 million gallons of water a day,” he says, “pumped out of our creeks and rivers.” Allman pledges to respond to anonymous GPS reports of pumps and hose: “I’ll pull pumps,” he promises. “We’ll fly tributaries. I want to see the salmon come back.”

...Higgins, from Arcata’s Kier Associates, comes armed with graphs showing the number of illegal diversions and dams outnumber permitted diversions all along the North Coast and in Napa and Lake counties.

Higgins recalls fishing in Mendocino County’s Outlet Creek during the ‘60s, when it was loaded with steelhead. By 1996, because of illegal drafting, parts of the creek were dry in the summer, stranding fish in deep pools—pools from which diesel pumps lift water daily. Higgins says there are 1,700 illegal diversions in Marin County alone. Flyovers show illegal ponds everywhere, for vineyards and other agricultural uses. The Napa River used to have Coho salmon, the Navarro is dry, and so is the Gualala. Creeks dry between pools that often become clogged with algae that grows in the too-warm, too-still water. When the algae blooms, it releases a nerve toxin that has poisoned dogs and wildlife....

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