Sunday, November 2, 2008

Marijuana, water use explored at Willits forum

By ZACK CINEK The Daily Journal
Article Last Updated: 11/01/2008 03:33:47 PM PDT

Sheriff Tom Allman, a Mendocino National Forest special agent and a biologist shared their perspectives on marijuana growing and water use with a crowd of about 75 people in Willits Thursday evening.

Special Agent In Charge Ron Pugh works in law enforcement for the southwest region of the U.S. Forest Service, and was first to speak at the forum.

Pugh said marijuana growing on public land has changed from relatively small-time operations to the large marijuana growing practices seen today.

"We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto," Pugh said. "We are not talking about hippies in Volkswagens."

Marijuana gardens today on forest lands can be occupied by five to 15 people, Pugh said, where years ago a garden would have two people or be left unoccupied. The gardens of today have armed guards and exist in locations that are not as predictable as the lower elevations previous growers chose, he said.

Other reasons, and not the thousands of plants, Pugh said, are more significant.

"There are a number of other elements that separate the two," he said.

Pugh showed photos of trucks heaped with black plastic water lines removed from National Forest gardens and garbage left behind. Other photos in the slide show depicted small reservoirs with water piped in and ground riddled with holes from removed plants.

Pugh said it costs about $5,000 per acre to remove the infrastructure and about $10,000 per acre if alterations made to the ground are repaired.

Allman was the second speaker at the evening's forum.

"They do not have any pride of ownership in Mendocino County," he said. "There are people doing the things Ron (Pugh) showed you. They are careless about the quality of water tomorrow, let alone 10 years from now."

As to how much water could be going to marijuana plants in the county, Allman said the Sheriff's Office has seized more than 362,000 marijuana plants this year and that, he estimated, is only about 10 percent of what is growing. At one gallon of water per day per plant, he said, consumption could be about 3.6 million gallons of water per day by marijuana plants in the county.

Patrick Higgins, an Arcata-based consulting fisheries biologist, has a professional background on California's water ways and the water that is pumped from them. Higgins was the third to speak.

He talked about water laws that cover all who pump water in the state, such as farmers, and did not name marijuana specifically during his portion of the forum.

"There is an epidemic of lawlessness because there is no enforcement," Higgins said. "I am talking zero from the Water Rights Division."

In a portion of his presentation, Pugh said that pesticides, herbicides and rat poison have been found in marijuana gardens on National Forest lands.

Processing gardens as crime scenes and ensuring the cleanup of all sites are goals of the Forest Service, he said.

"It is not a systematic process," Pugh said, "but it will be soon."

He said most of the cleanup work is being done by volunteers. Among a list of what people can do, Pugh stated, is to be informed, make your concerns known and to be vigilant in your forest by reporting pipes or other clues.

"Bashing pot growers," Pugh said, "I do not have time for that."

Zack Cinek can be reached at

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