Thursday, November 26, 2020
Nov. 26, 2020

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Questions raised about cannabis growers’ water use

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A marijuana plant is seen in May in Springfield, Ore.
A marijuana plant is seen in May in Springfield, Ore. Associated Press files Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Charles Cook and Suezan Hill-Cook didn’t think much of a medical marijuana growing operation when it set up shop next to their home near Redmond in 2015. Over the next few years, however, they and other neighbors grew increasingly frustrated with the noise, smells and traffic that come with a cannabis operation.

Then, during the hottest part of last summer, the well the couple relies on for water went dry, and they had to drill a new one. They blamed the marijuana growing operation.

“That was the last straw,” Hill-Cook said, The Bulletin reported Friday.

State and federal research does not link drops in the water level to cannabis-growing operations. While everyone agrees that groundwater levels are declining in parts of the county, the research shows recent declines are part of a larger trend.

Still, the couple’s claim is far from unique in Deschutes County. In areas of the county where cannabis operations have sprung up, anecdotal reports of wells running dry have followed. While a state investigation determined that growing operations had a relatively limited effect on groundwater near Tumalo, that hasn’t stopped rural Deschutes County residents from drawing a connection between uses.

After recreational cannabis was legalized in November 2014, subsequent legislation defined it as a farm crop, to be protected under Oregon’s Right to Farm laws and subject to Oregon’s agricultural water quality rules.

Deschutes County code requires a business looking to grow marijuana to provide a water right permit, a statement that water is available from a public or private water provider, or proof from the Oregon Water Resources Department that the property does not require a water right.

Some growers hoping to break into the recreational market eschew traditional irrigation water, which is typically available only from April to October. Instead, some growers have secured rights to use groundwater to grow cannabis year-round.

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