(Getty Images)
(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The state of Washington is launching legal recreational marijuana sales this week, once again raising the question of whether California will someday follow suit.

But a report from state wildlife officials is raising concern about the environmental cost of expanding cannabis cultivation in the Golden State — especially amid a drought that’s leading water managers to impose stricter and stricter controls on how the state’s most critical resource is used.

Marijuana is a notoriously thirsty crop, with each plant requiring as much as six gallons a day for a 150-day growing season. According to a Department of Fish and Wildlife study released earlier this year (and embedded below), illegal diversion of water to irrigate pot farms is leading some Northern California streams to run completely dry. And the loss of streams is harming some threatened fish species.

KQED’s Mina Kim talked Tuesday to Scott Bauer, a senior Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who co-authored the study on marijuana cultivation impacts.

As one example of the impact of marijuana-related water diversions, Bauer said that last year about two dozen streams in Humboldt and Mendocino counties totally dried up. Many of those streams are home to threatened populations of salmon and steelhead, Bauer said.

Here’s the audio of our interview with Scott Bauer:


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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