It was announced last week that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWQCB) will begin inspecting and targeting illegal marijuana grows across Northern California. The move by the board effectively ends the ongoing struggle between state, regional and local jurisdiction in their efforts to prevent environmental destruction.

The water board had previously refused to offer assistance in weeding out illegal marijuana sites. Last month, Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly discussed his county’s difficulties in controlling illegal pot grows and expressed his frustration with the resistance of state and regional water boards to help combat the illegal growers.

In a response to Supervisor Connelly, Executive Director Pamela Creedon acknowledged that illegal grows impact the environment, but failed to offer any help, stating that “accessing and inspecting these sites present a danger to Central Valley Water Board staff.”

Leaders across Northern California, including Connelly, were outraged and began soliciting help from representatives in the California state legislature.

In late August, the state created a task force comprised of officials and representatives from Butte County, the CVRWQCB, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the offices of Assemblyman Dan Logue and Governor Jerry Brown. Soon after, the CVRWQCB decided to join forces with the other public agencies.

“The environmental impacts are significant.” Creedon stated in an interview with the Associated Press, “If we don’t get some kind of control over this, we’re going to have some serious damage being done.”

The Central Valley board is following in the footsteps of their sister agency, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB). The North Coast Board has already employed such tactics for some time, aggressively targeting and prosecuting illegal growers who wreak havoc on the environment.

A special report released by the NCRWQCB outlines the specific damage that is done when growers fail to follow local environmental laws:

  • grading, terracing, dam, and road construction without permits, leading to the filling of streams through erosion and sediment deposition;
  • deforestation and habitat fragmentation;
  • illegal use of rodenticides, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides;
  • use of soil amendments and fertilizers in situations where run off to surface waters may occur;
  • discarding of trash and haphazard management of human waste;
  • substandard storage of hazardous materials such as diesel and gasoline; and
  • unauthorized diversion of water from streams.

According to the AP, marijuana is California’s biggest cash crop and amounts to an estimated $14 billion in both legal and illegal sales each year.