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Your Marijuana Habit Is Still Sucking California Dry

It was the week of public almond-shaming, but here’s the thing: the state’s insatiable weed habit could be far more wasteful than its nut-crunching proclivities.
Photo via Flickr user prensa420

Over the past few weeks, all eyes have been on California as the super-parched state endures its fourth year of record-breaking drought. In mid-March, after officials announced new, far-reaching water restrictions for residents and businesses, attention turned towards the worst offenders when it comes to water use. Earlier this week, a host of articles centered on the conveniently easy-to-remember fact that it takes an estimated one gallon of water to produce a single almond. The state grows 82 percent of the world's almonds, using up a whopping 10 percent of California water reserves each year.


It was the week of public almond-shaming, but here's the thing: the state's insatiable weed habit could be far more wasteful than its nut-crunching proclivities. According to a recent study published by the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE, the massive water diversions that nourish California's extensive pot farms have played an enormous role in contributing to the catastrophic drought. And tasty foods such as avocados and wild salmon are feeling the effects: some avocado growers are electing to let their groves go dry, and endangered salmon populations are struggling to survive in drying-up waterways.

This is territory we've covered before: about a year ago, we spoke with one of the lead authors of the new study: Scott Bauer, a senior environmental scientist at California's Department of Fish and Wildlife. He told us that "generations of fish" were being lost due to low streambeds caused grow sites' insatiable thirst for water. These pot farms, clustered mainly in Northern California's so-called "Emerald Triangle" of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, demand a massive amount of water. According to Bauer's research, a single site can contain hundreds of plants, and each plant needs about six gallons of water per day. A growing season lasts a whopping 150 days; do the math, and you'll have an idea of the massive impact the state weed industry is having on its precious water resources.

And apparently, the problem continues apace. According to the new research compiled by Bauer and his colleagues, growers are still ravaging the state's preciously low water table, guzzling anywhere from between 138,200 and 191,265 gallons of water a day on selected sites in Humboldt County.

So if you're feeling guilty about snacking on your favorite almond-heavy trail mix, just think about the crisis you could be contributing to each time you hit your bowl. As Bauer recently told the website Takepart: your green might not really be that green, after all.