A Garberville water supply business that will use rainwater collection and bladder storage has gained Planning Commission approval and may represent a new trend for irrigating marijuana crops.
County permits for the project were approved by a majorty of county planning commissioners at their October 6 meeting.
The Seasonal Water Solutions company will collect and store a maximum of 3.3 million gallons of rainwater in 16 storage bladders at 1575 Sprowel Creek Road.
The water will be trucked off-site but not by the company — instead, customers will buy and pick up the water and deliver it themselves to where it will be used. The permit conditions require that sales and water amounts be reported to the county for oversight.
Planning staff told commissioners that it will be the county’s job to ensure compliance with a recently-approved commercial medical marijuana ordinance and track where the water’s going. Staff also said the project isn’t at odds with the site’s Agricultural-General zoning.
The marijuana ordinance prohibits trucking of water and requires onsite storage. Planning staff described the project as fitting in with the ordinance’s guidelines, since the water being sold will be sourced from winter rainwater and stored for use during the dry season.
But during a public comment session, conventional farming advocate John LaBoyteaux said storing water where marijuana is grown is a better way to irrigate.
“The most tremendous mitigation for this entire project would be to grow the marijuana right there on the site,” he said. “Then you don’t need any bladders, you don’t need any collection surface, you don’t need any ditch, plumbing, berm or anything else — you can just use the riparian water because you’re using it on the property you own.”
But Shawn Studebaker of Randall Sand and Gravel, which is adjacent to the project site, advanced an argument that would be used by the applicant’s engineers and by planning commissioners — that selling responsibly-sourced water from a central site will prevent diversions from streams and creeks.
“This is a perfect solution to the problem that’s escalating throughout the county,” Studebaker said, adding that summer water demand is inevitable and “if they don’t have an option to purchase the water … they will take it from anywhere they can get it.”
Although Humboldt County received five letters of opposition to the project from nearby residents, three residents of the area spoke at the meeting and supported it, saying it will offset illegal water trucking and will also be useful for firefighting.
Jesse Jeffries, the owner of the site and the project applicant, reiterated that use of water from his company will reduce the environmental impacts of illegal water use and trucking from other areas of the county.
Although the project will add an average of 12 truck trips per day on Sprowel Creek Road, Jeffries said it will generally reduce traffic by displacing unregulated water trucking.
Jeffries actually started work in the fall of 2015 without permits and illegally diverted water from the South Fork Eel River. His attorney, Robert Ziegler, said civil actions by the county and the District Attorney’s Office will make compliance with laws and permit requirements “a matter of court order.”
In response to questions from commissioners, Interim Planning Director Rob Wall said Jeffries’ project is “an environmentally superior way to get water to these sites.”
He suggested that evolving legal conditions will gradually make the water trucking industry obsolete. “In the long term, there might be an incremental decrease in customers,” Wall said, referring to the effect of compliance with new county regulations. “We wish our businesses well … but in all likelihood, these are businesses that will be filling a niche for a certain period of time and then likely will have to look elsewhere — to diversify.”
Most commissioners voted to approve the project’s permits and an after-the-fact special permit to correct unpermitted work Jeffries did in the South Fork Eel stream buffer. He’s required to perform a full restoration of the disturbed streamside area.
Commissioner Kevin McKenny was the only commissioner to vote against project approval, due to his concerns about the county’s ability to double-check water tracking.