Bureau of Reclamation Debates Pot’s Water


By Richard Farrell

Can Federal Water Irrigate Marijuana?

Marijuana investment puts money into plants, and plants are fussy about their environment. The soil must be rich in essential nutrients, the ambient temperature and light must be appropriate if grown indoors, and water must moisten roots according to the growth phase of the plant. It is okay to use tap water, although you may need to do reverse osmosis depending on the additives.

On May 19, 2014, Huff Post ran a story regarding the dependability of water supply to cannabis farmers in Colorado and Washington State. Some local water districts purchase water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is in charge of the federal supply line. I had thought water was democratic in the United States. It seems that I was wrong.

Breaking news potentially affecting marijuana investors is that bureau officials are “evaluating how the controlled substances act applies in the context of reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities,” according to Peter Soeth, a spokesman for the bureau. He is politely saying that someone up there does not want to do it. In principle, they have a right to do so under the controlled substances act, yet it seems slightly reactionary.

“Every indication we are hearing is that their policy will be that federal water supplies cannot be used to grow marijuana,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Roza Irrigation District in Washington State has already sent out cautionary messages to its water customers. So what does this mean for marijuana investment if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation imposes a water ban? The answer, like most things in America, depends on where you are.

A marijuana investor in Denver, where most Colorado farmers have planted indoor crops, is unlikely to feel the impact of a water ban because Denver Water is not a federal contractor. In Washington State, where water-intensive outdoor cultivation is popular, the boot could end up on the other foot; the Bureau of Reclamation supplies water to around two-thirds of irrigated land.

Does this mean the end of marijuana investment in open farmland? Of course not, you can always sink a well. Besides, McClatchy reported last month that most Washington marijuana patches are smaller than a football field, and well within the 5,000-gallon daily water consumption that municipal law allows.

I’ll close this piece with a high-note from Alan Schreiber, a farmer in Washington’s Franklin County: “This is an annoyance and a nuisance but I can assure you they will find water for this. Water, relatively speaking, is not that expensive. You can get it from a well. You can find somebody. There are wells everywhere around here.”

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