CALIFORNIA: California water quality regulators will soon begin inspecting illegal marijuana growing operations in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, reversing an earlier ban intended to protect employees.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is charged with protecting streams and groundwater in the state’s vast interior, a region encompassing 37 counties and 40 percent of California’s land area. It also includes the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, a mountainous and sparsely populated region favored by marijuana growers.
Those growers encompass a spectrum of individuals, from gravely ill cancer patients growing their own small supply of medicinal marijuana under the legal authority of California’s Proposition 215, to undocumented immigrants working on behalf of violent multinational drug cartels.
To protect its employees from the latter type of grower, the water board has refused to allow its regulators to join law enforcement officials in the field to inspect marijuana growing operations of any sort. Officials cited risks that include lethal booby traps, armed guards and potential health hazards. The result was that state wildlife officers and county sheriff’s agencies have been unable to borrow water quality expertise during inspections. And a sordid array of environmental crimes has often gone unprosecuted, from illegal road grading to pollution caused by herbicides, pesticides and human waste.