Monday, May 17, 2010

Mendocino Grand jury: Illegal pot costs more than you think

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 05/17/2010 12:00:35 AM PDT

The Mendocino County Grand Jury believes the big hidden cost of illegal pot growing in this county is the amount of illegal water use and general environmental degradation illegal pot growers spread.

Among a series of its 2009-10 reports issued over the weekend, the grand jury's "Marijuana: It costs more than you think" report tackles a problem increasingly identified by authorities and citizens as just as serious as the crime illegal pot growing brings to town.

The grand jury's investigation took place in 2009, one of the worst drought years the county has seen in recent decades. While looking into the general topic of water management in the county, "the GJ became aware that there is significant illegal use, diversion, and pollution of the existing watershed at marijuana grow sites in the County. As a result of this illegal activity, precious water is being diverted and contaminated," the report said.

According to the report, "During the water shortage of 2009 the GJ was made aware of water being illegally diverted from irrigation canals in Potter Valley. This water was being transported and sold in other locations in the County ... There is a reasonable suspicion that much of this water was destined for the growing of illegal marijuana. The GJ found that over the past two years there has been an increase in citizen reports/complaints to law enforcement regarding environmental issues related to illegal marijuana farming in the County."

Using a law enforcement figure that the 362,000 illegal marijuana plants seized as of October, 2009 was about 10 percent of the total out there, and using what it believes is the "conservative estimate" of one gallon of water per plant per day, the grand jury concluded that illegal consumption of water would be 3.6 million gallons per day, or about 11 acre feet.

Meanwhile, local residents were under very serious water cutbacks and rationing.

The GJ also had photographs taken during the 2009 growing season showing them water being diverted from creeks for irrigation purposes at illegal marijuana growing sites plus, animal carcasses, human garbage, human waste, herbicides and animal poisons had been recently found at these sites.

The report also found that water was "being polluted by highly toxic compounds. These toxins are used as fertilizer and pesticides which are diluted by mixing them with water in dammed areas of the stream bed. Possession and use of many of these chemicals are banned In the United States."

The investigation also confirmed that illegal growers clear-cut trees, dam streams, terrace slopes which causes erosion and watershed pollution, and left local authorities to clean it all up.

The Grand Jury recommended that:

MCSO, Department of Fish and Game, United States Forest Service, and BLM mount a coordinated and concentrated effort to prevent environmental and watershed damage early in the growing season by initiating environmental inspections and cleanup programs for known sites.

The Mendocino County District Attorney, support the efforts of law enforcement agencies by prosecuting those who cause damage to water resources and the environment.

The DA charge growers, found in control of illegal sites, with the cost of site cleanup.

The appropriate law enforcement agency use asset forfeiture funds to institute a program to clean up illegal sites, remove toxins, open the natural water flow, and dispose of material used at the site; i.e. plastic pipe, water storage containers, and plastic sheeting.

Appropriate equipment and procedures be used to insure the safety of cleanup crews.

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