Posts Tagged ‘California’

This piece originally ran on April 21st, 2015, in The Leaf Online as, “Nip it in the Bud: Cannabis Farming Is Not Causing California’s Drought.” It was picked up and ran by AlterNet on April 22nd, with the title, “Weed and Water in California: Pot Isn’t The Problem.” All photos were taken by me, while visiting family in the Central Valley in 2009.

Nip in the bud” To break a bad habit before it forms.

There’s nothing new about bad cannabis science, but now in the days of cannabis policy reform it often seems that new examples are cropping up every day, hoping to mislead the public into believing the ‘virtue’ of prohibition.

Time to nip them in the bud.

Nip it In The Bud 2 - Drought - Dead Orchard Img 46

California has been in a drought for the past four years. Most of the state has received under 10 inches of rain, meeting the criteria to be labeled a desert. This conundrum has made California a testing ground for a battle over water rights, where cannabis growers are being unjustly scapegoated as the culprits behind the worst drought the state has seen in over a millennium.

It all started when a recent study conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlifefound that illegal and unregulated cannabis growing could potentially be a threat to sensitive wildlife and their habitat. The researchers use many qualifying words in their study, because many of the facts aren’t sufficiently well-known to properly say how big of a threat cannabis growing could be to endangered species like the Coho salmon. Regrettably, most journalists reported on this uncertainty with headlines like “Pot is Making California’s Epic Drought Worse” and “California is in One of its Worst-Ever Droughts Because People Are Growing Too Much Weed.”

David Downs, with SFGate’s Smell the Truth, is one of the only journalists to get it right, properly recognizing that cannabis growing is a “tiny sliver of water use in the state.” The study estimates that the average cannabis plant takes 6 gallons of water every day. Chris Van Hook, founder of the Clean Green organic cannabis certification program, estimates that while plants begin taking about a gallon of water a month they can end up consuming nearly 15 gallons a day. Chris estimates that all the growing in Mendocino county consumes about 32 million gallons at the height of growing season.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife study found that,“In California, irrigated agriculture is the single largest consumer of water, taking 70–80% of stored surface water and pumping great volumes of groundwater.” Almonds alone consume 3 billion gallons per day, out of the 30 billion gallons used by agriculture every day in California; 10% of the total agricultural water use and 100 times as much water as Mendocino uses for cannabis growing.

17

Notice the blue sign that says “Almonds.” This *was* an almond field, now it lays fallow.

California grows much more than just almonds. You may be wondering, just how much food does California grow? According to the California Department of Water Resources, California is the only state with the right climate to grow almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes and walnuts. California also produces over 250 types of crops, leading the country in 75 of those.

With the current drought, it is hard to see California continuing to keep up its same rate of food production, which may further drive up prices. The drought has created a state of emergency and has led to state-wide water rationing. The April snowpack, which should be at its peak, is actually the lowest it has been recorded since 1950; a record low of 5% of average.  2014 was the third driest year in over a hundred years and the warmest year on record.

Before this current drought California saw another drought from 2009-2010. This previous drought wasn’t caused by natural causes or climate change so much as it was caused by short-sighted politics. A federal ruling to protect the endangered Delta Smelt caused water to be diverted from thousands of acres of farmland in the Central Valley. This led to entire orchards being left for dead or laid fallow, including precious almond trees like those shown above, which take over three years just to produce fruit.

12 (Dustbowl Orchard)

These may have been almond trees, before the ‘Congress created dust bowl’ came and turned off their water supply.

Unfortunately, almond trees are not cannabis plants and don’t have a three month growth cycle. When those trees were killed by politics five years ago, the new ones planted to replace them didn’t even begin to produce almonds until the current drought was in full swing and water rationing was imposed. While endangered species like the Delta Smelt and Coho Salmon need to be protected, preservation must be balanced against the humanity’s need for water. As water gets increasingly scarce the political calculus at play will need to be re-evaluated. If better decisions aren’t made during this natural drought than during the self-inflicted one, those almond trees may never get a chance to fruit.

40 (The Dead Orchard #2)

If better decisions aren’t made to confront the current drought then dead orchards like this will be an all too common sight.

In response to the Reefer Madness panic over the minuscule amount of water being used for cannabis growing the legislature has released two bills, AB 243 and a similar bill in the Senate,SB 165. Both laws would strengthen existing laws governing cannabis farming and other illicit activities on public and private lands. The patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, opposes both bills as they currently stand and feel patients are being unfairly scapegoated. ASA makes a good point considering other groups, like Nestle, are allowed to skirt legality to bottle millions of gallons of groundwater every year to sell bottled water back to the same people they took it from.

The real culprit behind the California drought isn’t outdoor cannabis growers, as much as it is every person who drives a car, everyone who doesn’t buy local or sustainable products, or indoor cannabis growers. In short, everyone who has ever contributed to climate change in any way. Indoor growing has a massive carbon footprint and greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions; in California, it is “responsible for about 3% of all electricity use.” Outdoor growing can be done in a sustainable way that uses closed loop systems, creating minimal environmental harms with relatively little carbon footprint.

Scientists have identified a new climate trend for California, and all other coastal areas like it, where they will get more erratic temperatures, less predictable seasons, and generally colder temperatures. This phenomenon is known as “Coastal Cooling;” it is even more intense in urban areas. Despite current warming, it appears that cooler and wetter weather could be in the future for California. As climate change intensifies, the West Coast will see more erratic weather and it is hard to say what it could mean for California’s farmers and everyone else who calls the Golden State home.

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Back from a brief hiatus from blogging to focus on other projects I’m back to fill your inboxes and thought-boxes with new blog updates. Today will just be a brief guide for my fellow Californians on how to conserve water. While this will be a short post it may be one of the most important things I post given that California is in its worse drought in 500 years. If it wasn’t bad enough it not appears to be getting worse. Things are so bad that the Governor and many cities are calling for voluntary rationing. The life or death question is – why the bloody hell hasn’t anyone made rationing mandatory? Hellooooo guys, worst drought ever, what about that isn’t scaring you into imposing mandatory rationing? My current city and hometown of San Francisco leads the state, using 49 gallons per person per day on average  versus 100.

1. If it is yellow leave it mellow, if it is brown flush it down. We probably all heard this as kids from environmentally conscious parents, I know I heard it enough were it became rote. I would imagine that is a result of growing up in California and dealing with near constant droughts all my life. We Californians should be used to drought conditions by now. This is a major one since your average toilet flush uses over 2.5 gallons of water and is flushed over 5 times a day. That’s over 12 gallons a day for most toilets.

2. Shower less. No really, shower less. If you currently shower daily, shower ever other day, if you already shower less often than daily cut back to less. I’m showering twice a week now and no one has said a peep, it’s amazing what deodorant and changing your shirt daily can do. At Burning Man I went a solid ten days without a shower, that is pretty close to my maximum limit in the dusty context of the Playa. No shower for ten days does not mean not bathing, you can do wonders wiping yourself down with baby wipes (even your hair). Showers account for 17% of residential water use. Most showers average 7-10 gallons a minute, but there are ways to reduce that. Think about that next time you extend that morning shower just because it ‘feels nice.’ BTW, despite that ten days of dusty no-showers I still consider myself a clean freak, just less OCD than I used to be.

3. Develop a system for washing dishes. I’m working on implementing a system in my house with a soaking tub to reuse water for soaking and minimize the use of new water for rinsing. Using cast iron is also immensely helpful since you hardly ever use water to clean cast iron.

4. Cook things that use less water. I love making soup, but soup is half water. Now is not the best time to be making soup if you can opt for cooking things that use less water. Rice and pasta are also pretty water intense. You can always use cooked in pasta water as grey-water for watering plants once it has cooled!

5. Use your grey water. Whenever possible find ways to reuse your water. One thing I often do is use the same water to rinse out multiple bottles to put in the recycling. Oh yea, did you know you’re supposed to wash out your recycling and not leave it filled with food remains? Common courtesy folks and it makes the somewhat inefficient recycling process slightly more cost effective. You can use any water without chemicals in it to water plants; I would not recommend using dish water unless you are using a totally biodegradable/organic/all natural soap. The food waste could be an issue, or compost?

6. Set up a rain capture system. There are various ways to do this but most are variants on a barrel design. You can even pull water out of thin air using a fog capture system, something I am considering for my home in San Francisco.

7. Let your lawn die. Just stop watering it, let it go fallow, then plough that crap under and make a garden. If you are going to use water to maintain plants at least make sure they are drought resistant plants or useful things like food-baring plants/herbs.

8. Stop washing your car. I don’t even have a car anymore so I stopped this years ago. Thankfully cleaning a bike is much more water efficient than washing a car too. At the least create a more efficient system to wash your car, efficiency is the name of the game.

9. Gamify saving water, especially with kids. I like to use gamification to turn mundane things into fun games I can play with myself and the world. One game I am big on right now is “how little water can I use today?” For children you can try rewarding them for positive behavior, such as praise for taking a shorter shower or remembering to leave yellow mellow. I leave the games up to the individual as only the individual will know what properly motivates them to right action.

10. Group showers? What happens in San Francisco stays in San Francisco…

[EDIT]11. Transform sewer water into drinking water. Yep, it’s possible and here is the DIY guide on how to make what you need to do it. I’m ready for the apocalypse.