North Coast Cannabis Farmers: Ready or Not, The Water Quality Board Will Now Begin Enforcement, Fines and Fees Impending

SWRCB_Logo1

Logo provided California State Resources Control Board via wikipedia.com

With more regulatory actions coming into place, cannabis growers find themselves increasingly under the microscope. For anyone growing medical marijuana on the North-Coast, it is now official – as of today February 15, 2016 – you must be registered with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board (NCRWQB). This may come as a surprise to many, but the group has held many events in Northern California in order to answer questions and help growers with the registration process. I went to an event on February 2nd in Willow Creek, it was informative, there was a large discussion and many growers got to voice questions or concerns.

Here are some quick notes from the meeting:

  • Water Storage
    • No need for permits for collecting rainwater
    • Any single storage tank over 5,000 gals needs a permit
      • One can have more than 5,000 gals split into several tanks without permit
    • Ponds
      • The must:
        • Not be eroding
        • Not discharging into natural water supply
        • Fill must be stable
      • Fees and Penalties
        • What if I don’t enroll?
          • If you fail to enroll you may be subject to fines and penalties that are much greater than the cost of registering (more on the subject below).

Every site is different and brings forth numerous challenges. It is important to remember that the water board is not the police; they do not eradicate plants. However, they will be monitoring levels more than ever this year and will take appropriate action towards environmental offenders. It is very important that farmers start taking action, the water board wants to work with farmers to use environmentally safe practices that will benefit the industry as it ventures increasingly into the spot light.

Via an email from the group:

According to the NCRWQCB Staff, the deadline is so they can start enforcement. The program is run by their enforcement team leaders. They have to have a date to be able to enforce.  Enforcement for you, if you are not allowing discharge into a creek, is a letter of non-compliance through non-enrollment. If you are on their list of suspected cannabis cultivation on your property, you will receive a letter giving you 30 days to get into compliance through enrollment in the program.  If you are not enrolled within thirty days, the NCRWQCB can fine you up to $1,000 per day after that 30th day. A wee bit excessive I would imagine a court would find.

If you miss the deadline, don’t just throw in the towel, talk to a representative who will guide you to your best option. They will not penalize those who are actively participating in an open dialogue to meet the requirements of the state in regards to safe water usage. If you are unsure if your property meets the requirements for Tier 1 or Tier 2, it is advised to get a third party non-governmental business to come and do a property survey. If one falls in Tier 3 they will face steep fees and fines until their site meets the requirements of Tier 1 or 2. You do not want to be in Tier 3 (more information on requirements and guidelines for each Tier here). Make sure you do everything possible to meet the requirements before you request a site visit.

 “…your water source does not matter with this program, it is the 2,000 square feet of cultivation area of cannabis that matters. Over 2,000 square feet of cannabis means you qualify to participate in the program. It also means you have to include all other cultivation area (veggie garden, orchard, etc.) over the 2,000 square feet to determine what tear you are in. (My thinking is this will change over time (along with other implementations of the Order) because it promotes mono-cropping). For some properties with road or legacy issues, it may be better for you to cultivate 2,000 square feet or less of cannabis: the cost of work required to bring your land into compliance with this Order may be too expensive for you. You are the ones that may want to keep your cannabis only cultivation area under 2,000 square feet.”

When speaking with growers, it seems that many fear that they will fall into tier 3 and incur fines. Additionally the deadline seems hasty, especially when compared to the implementation schedule for MMRSA. Fees are also excessive, as admitted by NCRWQCB in their email. Additionally their program promotes mono cropping by including the square footage of all agriculture endeavors – i.e. growing a tomato garden or apple tree – in their regulatory process. This incentives growing solely cannabis, because it is most lucrative at the moment. Healthy farms rotate and grow a variety of crops. All in all, it seems the NCRWQCB has a lot to hash out and they might meet resistance in court. However, fair or not, they will begin enforcing their water compliance code today, February 15, 2016.

Please visit their website for more information. You can contact them with questions or help regarding proper compliance and registration: http://waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/cannabis/

Bo

Bo is a new contributor for Humboldt Underground. Look for a bio and future posts soon.

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