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Minimizing the Impact of Cannabis Cultivation on California Lands and Waterways

California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) | February 17th, 2017

Following recent changes in state law and voter-approved initiatives, California’s commercial cultivation of cannabis for recreational and medical use is expected to grow significantly. The State Water Resources Control Board has adopted a state cannabis policy to set up strict environmental standards, and a permitting system to protect local surface water from dewatering, protect water habitat and prevent pollution in the state’s rivers and streams.

Left unregulated, cannabis cultivation can pose serious threats to water quality and the environment. Cannabis cultivation impacts include the release of fertilizers, pesticides and other supplements that degrade water quality and threaten wildlife. Excessive water diversions can injure fish or even dewater smaller streams. The physical alteration of the land can harm stream habitat and wildlife by the sediment and debris that is deposited in waterways by unregulated cultivation.

Overview: The State Water Board’s “Cannabis Cultivation Policy, Principles and Guidelines for Cannabis Cultivation” (Policy) will be implemented through a water quality permit and a water right.

The water quality permit is referred to as a Statewide General Order for Cannabis Cultivation Activities (Cannabis General Order).

The water right is referred to as a Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration.

Tiered Approach: The Cannabis General Order consists of a tiered permit structure based on threat to water quality.

Tier 1 Cannabis Cultivators have a disturbed area greater than 2,000 square feet and less than 1 acre (43,560 square feet).

Tier 2 Cannabis Cultivators have a disturbed area equal to or greater than 1 acre.


agriculture, cannabis

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