(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 is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

Twitter: twitter.com/danbrekke
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