Water shortages may have caused marijuana growers to abandon their crops days before Butte County law enforcement officers raided their gardens.
The Butte County Sheirff's Office Special Enforcement Unit conducted early morning raids Tuesday on two suspected drug trafficking organization marijuana grows in the county's mountain areas. Both gardens were found through the use of the Sheriff's Office's helicopter, according to a news release.
The first raid was conducted in the Concow area near Dogwood Creek. Deputies searched the marijuana garden but were unable to find any suspects. Deputies did discover a large camp area that they said appeared to have been ravaged by bears and other animals.
Sheriff's officials said further investigation revealed that the marijuana plants had not been watered for several days. They suspect that the growers ran out of water for the plants and abandoned the garden. Deputies eradicated 2,900 marijuana plants from the site.
The second raid was conducted in the Feather River Falls area near Echo Ridge Road, where deputies found a marijuana garden thought to be operated by Mexican nationals. Here, too, they found the garden apparently had been abandoned for lack of water. Deputies eradicated 9,012 plants at this location, according to the news release.
In searching the site, deputies found a large camp, as well as several 10-pound boxes of fertilizer, which had been discarded in a nearby seasonal creek bed. They also found in the creek bed a 25-pound bucket of rat poison, which they concluded had been eaten by a bear, based on claw and teeth marks that punctured the bucket. Several more bags of fertilizer were found in the camp area along with 1,200-foot rolls of drip irrigation tubing.
Officials said the seasonal creek deposits water directly into Lake Oroville during the winter and spring, and would have added fertilizer to the ecosystem. Deputies removed the fertilizer from the creek bed.
Sheriff's officials said a search of the camp at the Concow-area garden also turned up a shrine that included votive candles for St. Jude and La Santa Muerte, or Holy Death. They said deputies in recent years have found such shrines in several marijuana grows believed to have been operated by Mexican nationals. La Santa Muerte is of particular interest, officials said, because it is not a legitimate Catholic saint and is commonly worshiped by drug traffickers seeking protection from law enforcement.