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August 7, 2013
Guest Opinion: Water regulators need to target pot farms

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(Aug. 7 -- By Dan Logue, Special to The Bee)

Regardless of how you may feel about marijuana, we should all be able to agree that the state's environmental laws should be applied equally to both pot and non-pot farmers. How we farm affects our quality of life and it is proper for government to enforce common-sense rules that protect public health and safety.

Unfortunately, public confidence in the state agency in charge of protecting much of the Sacramento Valley's water, due to concerns for safety, is hampered by not applying these rules equally. While it enforces compliance on traditional crop farmers and timber companies for violations, this agency has been unable to go after illegal pot farmers in Butte County.

Over the past few years, pot farms have proliferated in the high Sierra and foothills where they are much harder to detect. Drug cartels created many of these farms by mowing down pristine wilderness areas and diverting creeks. They post armed guards in these farms to protect their crops, creating a clear and present public safety threat for those who may happen to accidentally come across them.

Drug cartels, illegal pot farmers and even some legal growers have shown little concern for laws such as the Clean Water Act or the California Environmental Quality Act.

Their activities poison the land, water and the wildlife that feeds on it.

I got a firsthand account last week on a drive along with the Butte County Sheriff's Office.

What I saw was horrific. Chemicals poured all over the ground seeping into the creeks and lakes.

Bulldozers stripped away entire portions of mountains. Brush, trees rooted out and tossed into huge piles. The land was completely stripped bare.

It looked like Malakoff Diggins in Nevada County during the Gold Rush days.

I've joined with local officials asking state regulators to act, and charge pot growers with violations of water regulations that carry tough penalties.

In a response to a letter by local county supervisors asking for a pot farm crackdown, the executive director of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board wrote, "We simply cannot, in good conscience, put staff in harm's way." Another official said, "This is outside of our expertise, it's not the kind of thing that we do."

I understand and support the need for the safe environment for state employees to do their job.

But in this case the agency refused to inspect violations without conferring with law enforcement input as to whether it is safe to inspect certain sites.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office stated to me that it can ensure the safety of all inspectors to do their job. The office was surprised by the agency's statement. It doesn't seem that the Central Valley board has a policy for investigating violations involving the cultivation of marijuana. In contrast, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board does go after similar violators in its own region. For example, it prosecutes pot farmers who contaminate streams and flatten hilltops.

This unequal environmental enforcement needs to be mitigated. As the state assemblyman for a north state district that is being hurt by the lack of pot farm enforcement, I am working with local leaders and the water board to resolve this discrepancy.

We have expressed our concerns to the Central Valley board over the diminishing water quality in our region and have asked it to enforce the same laws that it is enforcing against other non-marijuana farms. I have also asked Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to help in this fight to protect our environment.

The state should use every available resource at its disposal to help enforce our laws equally in every region. Until it does, illegal pot farms will continue to pollute our state, diminish our water quality, and endanger the public safety of local residents.

Dan Logue, R-Marysville, represents the 3rd Assembly District in the California Legislature.

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