By Lizandro Salazar
As more propositions pass, tax dollars accumulate, and growers slowly creep out of the woodwork, it’s becoming clear that the CA cannabis industry is entering into a new phase.
While regulators scratch their heads trying to figure out how to best approach this topic, it’s clear that “business as usual” may turn into “business unusual.” Many farmers groan as engineering fees, soil tests, and permitting costs raise the price of going “legal”, but some growers and professionals are nodding their heads in approval. What some view as bureaucracy, others see as a opportunity to ‘do things right.’ CA is the leader in agriculture in the US. We grow the food that feeds most of the country using Billions of gallons of water, mixed with countless chemicals. Is the cannabis industry going to follow the same path? Or are we going to create sustainable and resilient systems promoting renewable energy, zero pesticides and water sovereignty? I’d like to think the latter.
This article is going to be focused on water. Water is one of the biggest and most crucial issues in the discussion over cannabis regulation. According to an article from CA NORML, it is estimated that the cannabis industry uses approximately 8,000 acre feet of water per year which is equal to about 2.6 billion gallons. The majority of this water comes from wells, springs, and unfortunately, tributaries and rivers which host the small remainder of our dwindling salmon populations. It is also clear that the rivers look alarmingly dry come July and August and while cannabis growing may not be completely at fault, it is definitely a factor.
According to the CA Fish and Wildlife Department, 6 gallons of water are needed per cannabis plant per day. Although this number may be true in some cases, is probably not true in most. At the moment, engineering and consulting firms are advising their clients to have 10 gallons of water per sq. ft of cultivated area stored during the forbearance period between May- August. This formula seems more reliable than than the above, as it takes into account the entire cultivated area, but, a formula created by the Emerald Growers Association in conjunction with Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council may actually take the cake. The elegant recipe of 1 gallon of water per 1 day per 1 lb. of dried flower finally targets the end product which is of course, flowers.
Take a quick minute to consider that every cannabis grower is actually just a flower farmer.
These numbers have echoed around the community and seem to add up to being pretty close to accurate. To give an example of this equation in action, assume that there are 240 days of watering for full term plants (Apr.-Nov.) According to the formula one lb of dry flowers should take about 240 gallons of water. This seems like a lot but when considering the number of people or number of times that these flowers will be enjoyed, the actual amount of water per “dose” is minimal. To take a look at the bigger picture, let’s say that a small farm has a goal of 200 lbs of dried flowers per year. That means they will need approximately 48,000 gallons of water to ensure their plants stay hydrated.
Now, this is where the article gets fun! Currently 8 out of 10 times this approximated 48,000 gallons of water will either be pumped up (from wells, streams, or rivers) or trucked in, both resulting in either reduced water tables or added costs/carbon into the air. What if I were to tell you that the same 48,000 gallons of water you just pumped up or paid to be driven in was actually already right there to begin with? Assuming it rains 30” per year (which is half of what most farms in Humboldt County receive), only 2500 sq. ft. of roof surface provides you with catchment opportunity to get that water. No energy, no pumping, no exhaust, and full water tanks come spring. A little bit of minor filtration and you get the best source of water that exists in nature.
Go ahead and ask the orchid growers. Orchids, a highly specialized flower, hint hint, thrive on rainwater which is why most champion breeders and growers use it as the sole water source. A recent test of captured rainwater was all that was needed to prove this point. The woman working at the lab asks, “where did you get that water? The scientists said it was the purest water they’ve ever tested!” -Kaitlyn, DBS. Rainwater is one of those amazing gifts that is so common that we truly don’t realize its enormous value. Every single drop of water you’ve ever drank came from the rain at some point or another. Period.
“According to DBS Analytics, Rainwater is the purest water they’ve ever tested.”
So back to that 2500 sq. ft. of roof surface area. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed how most farmers have adopted greenhouses to extend the growing season, create light deprivation opportunities, etc. These greenhouses are prime sources of clean, pristine rainwater. Typically in the full sun, with impermeable plastic, these structures offer ample volumes of high quality cloud juice. Many farmers, especially off-gridders, have opted to use solar panels for energy, rather than generator power. Solar panels serve as an even better source of rainwater! Lastly, roofs of houses, sheds, barns, yurts, anything above the ground thats impermeable (other than cedar shingles (i.e. fire retardant)) is fair game for water harvesting. All that is needed to begin the harvesting is gutters.
Here’s the best part! According to the State Water Code Section 10574, “rain harvesting from rooftops does not require a water right permit.” Boom. If you are one of the many farmers trying to be responsible and filing for compliance this may be the best thing you’ve heard since “ insert the last best thing you’ve heard here.” The CA State Water Board, along with most other jurisdictions, engineers, and consultants, are quickly spreading the word that this IS a solution when it comes to working around water rights issues. As long as one can prove that they are correctly catching and distributing the rainwater on their property, they may use the water as they like. Using it for drinking is another story, but it is possible.
This is where we get back to the potential evolution of the increasingly large cannabis industry. Encouraging or possibly even requiring farmers (large or small) to adopt these types of Best Management Practices (BMPS) is a sure fire way to set standards early on, emphasizing sustainability. We cannot make the same mistakes that the alfalfa, wine, nut, rice, and fruit industries have made. We have a chance to do this right. Our livelihoods, children’s livelihoods, and our land depends on our choices. What better way to show the public that we actually care than proving it in our actions. The combined acreage of all of the cannabis farmers in the state is astounding and if each property owner took it upon themselves to be a land steward, we would surely be stepping in the right direction. Let’s do our best to keep the big picture in mind, and move a few steps closer to the way that the original inhabitants of this land thrived for thousands of years before us.
-“RAIN IS PRICELESS” -L.S.