Despite a wet fall, drought conditions in the county aren’t expected to improve anytime soon. County supervisors are considering ways to proactively address the situation, and cannabis cultivators aren’t happy part of the solution includes curtailing irrigation for their crop.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors received a report from the county Drought Task Force on Tuesday indicating drought conditions are going to persist for the foreseeable future. The task force is recommending the supervisors:
- continue maintaining a drought emergency,
- consider curtailing cannabis irrigation in the future for those without onsite storage,
- develop better permitting regulations for wells,
- and hire a resiliency coordinator to focus exclusively on climate adaptation.
The supervisors didn’t make any decisions related to those recommendations at their Tuesday meeting, but several cannabis growers spoke out against being singled out during public comments.
“Drought and changing climate are long-term conditions that deserve holistic and equally applied water management solutions,” said Natalynn DeLapp, executive director of the trade association Humboldt County Growers Alliance. ” … The continued singling out for cannabis agriculture as the sole industry that could be curtailed is inappropriate. Cannabis water use is more regulated, measured and tracked than any other agricultural industry and uses significantly less water than any other industry.”
Cannabis irrigation has been part of the discussion since the board first declared a drought emergency in July 2021 in order to open up funding to address low river flows and hazardous fire conditions. Even though the county had a wet fall, a dry winter is guaranteeing drought conditions will persist for the foreseeable future, said Kathleen Zontos, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
The northern and southern regions of the county have received about 70% to 90% of their usual rainfall by this time of year, Zontos said, while the central portion of the county has received between 50% to 70%. While that was more than the previous year, without more rain, Zontos said it could end up being drier than last year.
“We started off pretty well,” Zontos said, “but the longer we go without rain, the worse off we get.”
The National Weather Service is predicting most of California, including Humboldt County, is in an area that could either receive below- or above-average amounts of rain between now and the end of April.
Even if the county receives the right amount of rainfall, Zontos said, “It’s all about timing.” Significant rain spread over a long period of time is preferred because it can be captured.
“If we get all of that rainfall too quickly, it could just run off and flow into the ocean and there’s no way of capturing that,” Zontos said. “So we’re kind of coming into the 11th hour as far as reaching where we want to be, but at this point, anything will help us.”
Around the same time the drought emergency was declared, the growers alliance released a white paper estimating cumulative water use for all permitted cannabis farms in the county was 33 times less than a single almond farm in the Central Valley.
DeLapp said HCGA supports building more water storage on-site and growers are awaiting the release of state funds to help build that storage.
“But given that cannabis farmers cannot fill water storage from surface waters after April 1, we are under an urgent deadline,” DeLapp said. “Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the Project Trellis emergency funding to be released.”
Several supervisors agreed that cannabis shouldn’t be singled out because drought conditions will be impacting everyone before long.
“Water storage and use should not just be about cannabis,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone. “We all use water and that’s a very important thing to recognize. We’re all going to be collecting rainwater, if not tomorrow, then next year.”
Madrone said supervisors have been working with state officials to try to get property tax incentives expanded to apply to the development of rainwater storage and ponds.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0504.