A California marijuana grower was charged a $100,000 fine in March for polluting a local water source, state officials said. The fine is one of the largest ever imposed on a legal cannabis farm for a water violation.
Brent Alan Vanderkam was accused of illegally clearing land for his pot plants and unwittingly washing 427 cubic meters of top soil into a local creek, according to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Vanderkam was ordered to restore more than two acres of the land he cleared, plus the $100,000 fine. He could end up spending another $95,000 to mitigate the pollution, board members said.
Vanderkam may not have caused the damage himself, but the state imposed the fine on him because he was “unwilling to identify” the person or company that leased the land when it was illegally cleared for marijuana cultivation.
Holding violating landowners accountable
“The settlement terms reflect the egregious nature of these violations and the importance of holding landowners accountable,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer for the board.
Though the fine was particularly expensive, it isn’t the first or even the costliest fine levied against people accused of clearing land illegally for cannabis plants. Last summer the board charged another landowner, as well as the grower who used his land, with a $297,000 fine. The charges were similar in that case.
A relatively new inspection program for cannabis cultivation, led by the board and officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, focuses on several Northern California counties, including parts of the Emerald Triangle – Mendocino and Humboldt counties – as well as nearby Shasta County.
California is still in the grip of the worst drought in its recorded history, and water issues have become paramount across the state. Marijuana farms have come under special scrutiny because they tend to use huge amounts of water.
Growers diverting water required to secure permits
Last fall the board ordered medical marijuana growers to secure permits if they want to divert or store water. The rule also encouraged farmers to use water-saving technologies, such as drip irrigation, that mitigate the effects of the drought.
A similar order was issued last year by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. It was the first time a water agency in California required “best management practices” from the thousands of marijuana grows that feed dispensaries throughout the state. Most of those farms are centered around the Emerald Triangle and other parts of Northern California.
Farms that dump wastewater and chemicals into natural water sources, illegally cut trees, or trap or kill wildlife are now subject to penalties issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, thanks to a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August.
That law was designed to punish illegal cultivation sites rather than legal farms. Many of these illicit grows are located in state parks and other public land, while others are hidden on private property.
State authorities have carried out roughly 250 raids since the law took effect, and have located more than 130 dams used to divert about 5 million gallons of water from streams, rivers, and other water sources.
Tell us below: Was the fine in this case fair? How responsible are marijuana farmers for California’s drought?