Marijuana Taken to the Cleaners at Water Board Meeting
Hoopa Tribe Provides Water Quality Data on Trinity River
By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board held their monthly meeting in Willow Creek last Thursday, June 7 providing a once-in-a-great-while opportunity for Klamath-Trinity residents to talk water quality in the appropriate forum. There are nine regional water quality control boards in California and the North Coast region consists of Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Modoc, Siskiyou, Sonoma and Trinity Counties.
Fresh from Southern California, Eureka’s new city attorney, Cindy Day-Wilson joked about wearing high heels at Kamp Kimtu. After introducing herself to the board she spoke briefly about the City’s concerns with a $6-$11 million remedial action plan to dig up city streets in the Henderson Center area to mitigate pollutant discharge from Norman’s Dry Cleaners.
“I’m not going to talk details or data,” Day-Wilson said. “I’m not prepared to do that today.”
Day-Wilson expressed concern about potential disruption to the business community of Eureka should the project continue. The City of Eureka is a defendant in litigation surrounding the issue.
In addition to several public hearings on topics such as the Cloverdale, Blue Lake and Arcata Wastewater Treatment Facilities the board heard from the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s EPA department about concerns with water quality in the Trinity River.
Topping the list of concerns, which includes rock quarries, residential runoff, illegal dumpsites and landslides, is uncontrolled discharge of nutrients into the river resulting from both legal and illegal marijuana plantations.
The Tribe’s Environmental Planner, Curtis Miller gave a slide presentation featuring photos of algae blooms over the course of the past several years. His data from extensive testing has identified various threats to the Trinity River’s water quality. But first, he explained that the Hoopa Valley’s drinking water is taken from the Trinity River, pumped through a state-of-the-art treatment facility then piped to residents as tap water. He also explained that the Hoopa Tribe has the authority to create its own water quality standard, the same authority the state has.
An invisible threat to water quality on the Trinity River is E. Coli. Miller provided a map of the septic systems on the Lower Trinity River. There are 1151 septic tanks within one-and-a-half miles from the river; 995 within a half mile of the river and 620 within a quarter mile of the river. Open dumping at illegal dumpsites, such as the site at Campbell Creek also pose a serious public health problem.
Miller used his data to rate potential sources for river contamination on a scale of 1-10. Although he ranked landslides and seepage from septic systems at 10, he also ranked Marijuana plantations at 10 saying both legal and clandestine grows, pose the newest and potentially greatest risk to water quality on the Trinity River.
“If you do the math, there is approximately 64 million gallons of waste water from marijuana grows per season,” he said. “And that’s a conservative estimate.”
Miller collected data on marijuana plantations from Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. HCSO estimates that from 2006 through 2009 large plantations were being produced ranging from 5,000 to 133,000 plants, located in the upper watersheds of the Trinity River. The Sheriff’s Office also estimates that within the same timeframe, multiple (approximately 200) marijuana grows of 5,000 to 10,000 plants are commonly eradicated by law enforcement officials. When average water and fertilizer use is applied to a formula the result is 54 million gallons of water and 10 million gallons of fertilizer totaling 64 million gallons of waste water.
Miller was careful not to only blame pot. Landslides and road erosion is also a serious threat to water quality, but he said in regards to the algae blooms in recent years, “There are obviously a lot of factors that impact water quality, but nothing has changed significantly in the Trinity except a lot of marijuana growing.”
One local resident expressed similar concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I have seen overwhelming land-use and water-use changes to our small communities caused by increasing conversions to marijuana cultivation on private property parcels using the state’s 215 ‘medical’ marijuana protection but clearly abusive to the intent of this legislation, clearly commercial, and clearly abusive to our sensitive watershed. Many of these changes are individually relatively small-scale but the cumulative impacts are extreme,” she said. “From conversations with other concerned citizens here and elsewhere in the state, it is clear that many places are beyond the saturation point in terms of the damaging sprawl of uncontrolled marijuana cultivation with impacts to water quality, water resources, air quality, related impacts to fish and wildlife as well as to humans—and that many people are expressing enormous frustration, stress and grief at the damage we see being done to the environment as well as to communities.”
The discussion prompted a reply from two water board members who said they’ve gotten overwhelming complaints about the issue. They turned to their legal counsel to ask her to produce a legal memo to the board stating their authority on the issue.
“We have authority out there, so how can we use it?,” Board Chairman, David Noren said after saying how overwhelming the issue is. Noren is from Sebastopol and was appointed to the board under its industrial water use category. “We have authority over discharges of waste regardless of whether it’s illegal or legal.”
Miller hopes to hold a series of outreach meetings with various stakeholders to discuss land management plans, community development plans, wastewater disposal, enforcement, restoration opportunities and any other issues posing a threat to Trinity River water quality that will culminate into the development of a source water protection plan.
Later in the meeting the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team agenda item was tabled due to the absence of a key presenter.
A discussion about the Shasta River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) waiver informed the board of a request for an extension. The initial conditional waiver of the TMDLs on the Shasta River was adopted in 2007 and is set to expire this August. Another extension will be requested into October.
The Shasta River watershed is a major tributary to the Klamath and is listed as impaired for temperature concerns. The river’s management continues to be a source of debate amongst salmon advocates and irrigators who draw water from the river.