Water Woes Threaten California Desert Grow Operations

Water Woes Threaten California Desert Grow Operations

California is a place where marijuana has been grown in abundance since medical marijuana was legalized in 1996. With recreational marijuana becoming legal last November, the enthusiasm for the marijuana industry has only increased as the multi-billion dollar industry sets up shop. Recreational marijuana is estimated to bring in millions for entrepreneurs wanting to invest in the plant’s future and the Californian desert towns want in on this opportunity. Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and the city of Coachella have all lined up to become marijuana grow areas.

The Aftermath of a 5-Year Drought

california drought has depleted water sources for marijuana grows
California’s drought has depleted aquifers used for desert-based marijuana grow operations.

The desert towns were ahead of the game. Anticipating that the state would elect to legalize recreational marijuana, they voted to make it legal for grow facilities to set up shop there, even before the election took place. Now large scale commercial operations are set to locate themselves there. The only problem with this situation is the basic issue of all of these places being desert regions, having no lakes, rivers or rain, with a water supply that is limited. Under the desert there is a groundwater aquifer that has been getting depleted for many years. According to The Desert Sun, during the 5 year California drought, NASA scientists discovered that the groundwater in the Coachella Valley had dropped 62 feet since the ‘60s. The new operation could potentially upset the water supply and it may come down to having to decide which way the water goes – to the people or the crops.

Conservation Through Irrigation

According to Water Deeply, local officials, including Mayor Scott Matas, and marijuana industry people insist that there will be enough water for everyone. Marijuana business owners are planning to use water very responsibly. They plan to use a “frugal drip irrigation system” to reuse the water through reverse osmosis. Even the humidity from the plants will be collected to provide for the plants’ water needs. It’s unknown exactly how much water every plant requires, especially given that some of these facilities will be a million square feet in size.

Other Water Demands

palm desert golf courses consume a lot of water supply
Golf courses consume a sizable amount of the reserved water supply.

On top of the demands placed on water in the region by the marijuana industry, the population of Desert Hot Springs is estimated to double over the next couple of decades. Palm Springs is also one of the towns using the water supply, which is a place known to have several large golf courses. Golf courses use an enormous amount of water. In fact, Matas told Water Deeply that “an 18-hole golf course uses 4 to 5 times the amount of water that one of these large cultivators would use.” A spokesperson for the Mission Springs Water District also said that there would be enough water for everyone.

Despite their confidence, many remain worried. Last June, a local water authority stated that “groundwater production continues to exceed groundwater replenishment.” This statement was made before the drought was over, but it still has relevance; especially as demands on the local water supply will only continue to increase with the advent of the new industry and the rise in population. Only time will tell how the system will balance itself out.



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