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Posts Tagged: pollution

Pollute, poach, dewater: Legacies of illicit cannabis grows

While the legality of California’s medical marijuana dispensaries is being debated in courtrooms, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry and wildlands ecology advisor says there are a number of issues related to the unregulated land-use practices of illicit cannabis growing that have not been addressed.

Greg Giusti
“As a forest ecologist, I spend a lot of time outdoors, and I talk to thousands of people every year about forest-related subject matter,” says Greg Giusti. “And you can’t talk to anybody today on the North Coast without the topic of cannabis growing and cannabis impacts on land coming up.”

In Lake and Mendocino counties, Giusti performs research and shares information with public agencies and private landowners in relation to forest management and freshwater ecology on behalf of UC Cooperative Extension. Marijuana farming is not a topic that Giusti ever intended to address.

Illegal water diversion is common among many illicit cannabis plots in wildlands. (Photo from Giusti's presentation, courtesy of Lake County Sheriff's Office)

Effects on natural resources
Most of the data available about illicit cannabis grows is based on drug enforcement actions, specifically how many sites were busted and how many plants or pounds of plant material were seized. Giusti has gathered photographs and anecdotal evidence of the effects on natural resources of commercial-scale marijuana grows operated illicitly on public and private lands.

Some of the effects he has documented:

  • illegal water controls (including dams, stream diversion and water storage)
  • water pollution from petroleum, pesticide and fertilizer products
  • pesticides applied without permits
  • pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals left behind
  • indiscriminate fish and wildlife killing (including poisoning, trapping and poaching for food)
  • human trash and waste left after camping

“It’s not this green industry that people talk about,” Giusti says. “They’re diverting water, they’re polluting streams, and there’s a portion who are poaching. We’re also seeing all of the negative effects of unregulated road building, unregulated construction and unregulated human inhabitation for months and months out in the woods.”

Giusti explained that some cannabis growers divert water from streams to store in large water bladders, prematurely lowering stream levels during critical times in the year.

“It's illegal to do, but at the same time you can drive up and down Highway 101 and easily buy these huge bladders,” he said.

He notes that local businesses are selling compost by the ton, rodenticide by the pallet, thousands of pairs of clippers and turkey bags in lots of 100.

“Mainstream businesses are supporting this underground industry,” Giusti said. “You don’t have to be growing cannabis to be making money off of it.”

Raising awareness
In 2010, Giusti organized two community workshops in Lake County to address the impacts of illicit cannabis land-use on forest resources, for a combined attendance of nearly 400 community members. Giusti has shared his results with the board of supervisors for Lake and Mendocino counties, local news media, local foresters and the staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“My intention was to initiate a communitywide discussion to ask, ‘Is this what you want to happen to your forests?’” Giusti said. “Up until now it's been talked about in hushed tones, and I wanted to initiate a dialogue out loud. Everybody has been whispering about it.”

The presentation he developed for those meetings continues to generate discussion. Most recently, he has presented to the North Coast Water Quality Control Board staff and other agencies. He has shared photos collected for his presentation with Congressman Mike Thompson’s office as well.

“With the water quality control board, I had the opportunity to engage people whose job it is to protect the beneficial uses of water — and hopefully stimulate an internal dialogue so that they can continue the discussion after I leave their office,” he said. “There are other resource agencies that need to be involved, and county planning departments too. This is an unregulated land-use practice.”

This month, the Lake County Record-Bee ran an article by reporter Linda Williams with the headline “Thirsty marijuana grows suck Eel River dry,” which included some information presented at Giusti’s meetings.

“My efforts seem to be improving people's awareness,” he says. “The very thing I wanted to accomplish — creating broader dialogues — is happening.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 12:37 PM
Tags: forest (19), Greg Giusti (14), land use (4), marijuana (8), natural resources (8), pollution (3), water (72)

Valley ozone story takes off

Research by UC Davis scientists that revealed a substantial amount of San Joaquin Valley ozone is generated by animal feed is getting wide coverage in the news media. Google News reported 126 articles on the subject.

Many newspapers ran the Associated Press version of the story, written by Fresno-based Tracie Cone. She reported that the study — funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Air Resources Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District — was initially intended to measure the impact of animal manure, urine and flatulence on ozone levels.

However, the researchers discovered that millions of tons of fermenting cattle feed bears greater responsibility.

Mark Grossi of the Fresno Bee noted in his story that the study was published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. This week's flurry of interest was generated by an April 21 news feed from the American Chemical Society press office. ACS publishes the journal.

In his story, Grossi wrote that the cattle feed explains only half of the Valley's ozone problem. The other half, Nitrogen oxide, or NOx, comes from vehicles. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District believes NOx is more important to control, the Bee article said.

Meanwhile, Capital Press reported yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has
rescinded its long-standing exemptions for agriculture under emission-control rules.

"Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is consistently among the worst in the nation," said Deborah Jordan, director of the Air Division for the EPA's Pacific Southwest region, in a statement. "New and modified facilities will now be subject to the most stringent requirements, which will contribute to the health of our communities."

A dairy cow eats its rations.
A dairy cow eats its rations.

Posted on Friday, April 23, 2010 at 10:15 AM
Tags: air quality (7), cattle (17), feed (1), ozone (2), pollution (3)

Animal feed generates lots of valley ozone

Scientists have been puzzled by the fact that the San Joaquin Valley often suffers high ozone levels even though the mostly rural, agricultural domain has fewer cars and trucks than big cities. Research by UC Davis scientists is now showing that some of the ozone in the valley is being generated by fermented animal feed, according to a story posted yesterday on the website Science News.

While ozone provides a protective barrier for the earth in the stratosphere, it is an unwelcome molecule to have around where people are breathing. Ozone (O3) is a powerful oxidizing agent, far stronger than O2. It can harm lung function and irritate the respiratory system.

The UC Davis team, led by environmental engineer Cody Howard, tested seven types of animal feed in a one-meter-square tented chamber, according to writer Janet Raloff, author of the Science News story. They added a mix of gases that matched the valley’s air and simulated sunlight with lamps. The result was lots of ozone.

Corn silage generated about 125 parts per billion ozone, alfalfa silage a little less, and mixed oat-wheat silage 210 ppb, Raloff reported. These emissions pale in comparison to cars. However, because the San Joaquin Valley has so much silage to feed its animal agriculture industry, the feed appears to be the single biggest contributor to the region’s ozone problem, the story said.

Cars and light-duty trucks in the valley can generate 13 metric tons of ozone per day, while feed for the valley’s 10 million head of dairy cattle can produce 24.5 million tons of ozone per day.

Corn silage livestock feed.
Corn silage livestock feed.

Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 9:55 AM
Tags: livestock (9), ozone (2), pollution (3), silage (1)
 
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