The Laytonville Water District regularly tests for nitrates in our water, and we have never tested positive for it. That’s because here in the Long Valley area there has never been a history of the type of agriculture activity on the scale that’s practiced in other parts of the state. However, it’s been reported that nitrates have been found at large grow sites in the north county area due to the heavy application of fertilizer to increase the yield of marijuana plants.
Aside from nitrates, state resource agencies are finding other, much more toxic applications used by marijuana farmers, especially outlaw grows on California forestland in Northern California, including, of course, the fabled Emerald Triangle.
In a recent Reuters story, it reported,
Toxic chemicals from illegal marijuana farms hidden deep in California’s forests are showing up in rivers and streams that feed the state’s water supply, prompting fears that humans and animals may be at risk …
Many of the illegal growers use fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.
The chemicals have turned thousands of acres of forest into waste dumps so toxic that law enforcement officers have been hospitalized after inadvertently touching plants and equipment, and scores of animals have died.
The streams in which they have been detected are crucial sources of water for fish, vulnerable animals including the Pacific fisher and the Northern Spotted Owl and are used for drinking by people and cattle. Ultimately, the contaminated rivers and creeks flow into the massive water supply system relied on by the most populous U.S. state.
“Carbofuran is in the water, and it’s not supposed to be,” said Mourad Gabriel, an ecologist who works with law enforcement on marijuana contamination issues. “How are we going to mitigate something like that?”
Carbofuran poisoning can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, uncontrollable muscle twitching, convulsions and even death, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Poisoning by diazinon, another chemical Gabriel has found in streams, can cause difficulty breathing, weakness, blue lips and fingernails, convulsion and coma, the agency says.
Gabriel, who has visited more than 100 sites in California and is widely considered the leading authority on toxins at marijuana farms, said about half the streams he studied in eight watersheds in the state’s prime pot-growing regions tested positive for contaminants.
In unpublished data seen by Reuters, Gabriel’s testing showed carbofuran, diazinon and other chemicals were present downstream from pot farms in Kern County in Central California, Humboldt County on the state’s northwestern coast, Mendocino County north of Santa Rosa and others.
This kind of outright environmental criminality is a main reason why counties like Mendocino with local marijuana ordinances, must get serious — because they aren’t now — about firmly and rigorously enforcing resource violations.
While state marijuana law includes regulation over pesticide use, water quality, and water sources, testing regimens for water contamination is off of their radar screen. That’s ludicrous.
The 4,000-plus water districts in this state, which treat basically clean water from the source, are required by state and federal law to perform hundreds of different water quality tests annually. Laughably, we have to test for non-essential risks such as rocket fuel in our water. So, it certainly makes sense to do some testing around the operations of a marijuana industry that contains elements of cultivators with an undeniable record of the most egregious types of environmental law-breaking to be found anywhere. Think about it: You have to go way, way out of your way to find pesticides and herbicides that have been banned for decades.
Regulations without enforcement is chaos, whether you’re talking about all the excess pot in the ground, or poisons in our watersheds.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the district manager of the Laytonville County Water District.)