Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
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Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: policy

Insight into the environmental impacts of cannabis agriculture

Google Earth Image of a cannabis grow site. The resolution of Google Earth images allowed the researchers to detect marijuana plants that were previously missed with other remote sensing techniques.
As policy liberalization rapidly transforms the multi-billion-dollar cannabis agriculture industry in the United States, the need for regulation and assessment of environmental impacts becomes increasingly apparent. 

A recent study led by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic used high resolution satellite imagery to conduct a systematic survey of cannabis production and to explore its potential ecological consequences. 

Published this spring in Environmental Research Letters, the study focused on the “emerald-triangle” in northern California's Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, which many believe is the top cannabis-producing region in the United States.

The UC Berkeley-based Butsic and his co-author Jacob Brenner used Google Earth imagery to locate and map grow sites (both greenhouses and outdoor plots) in 60 watersheds. Most cannabis grow sites are very small, and have gone undetected when researchers used automated remote sensing techniques, which are commonly used to detect larger changes such as deforestation.

“We chose to use fine-grained imagery available in Google Earth and to systematically digitize grows by hand, identifying individual plants. Most plants stand out as neat, clear, little circles,” said Brenner, who is on the faculty of the Department of  Environmental Studies and Science at Ithaca College. “The method was laborious — it took over 700 hours — but it proved to be highly accurate.”

Butsic and Brenner paired their image analysis with data on the spatial characteristics of the sites (slope, distance to rivers, distance to roads) and information on steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, both of which are listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. These and other species are vulnerable to the low water flows, soil erosion, and chemical contamination that can result from nearby agriculture.

Results of the study show 4,428 grow sites, most of which were located on steep slopes far from developed roads. Because these sites will potentially use significant amounts of water and are near the habitat for threatened species, Butsic and Brenner conclude that there is a high risk of negative ecological consequences.

“The overall footprint of the grows is actually quite small [~2 square kiliometers], and the water use is only equivalent to about 100 acres of almonds,” says Butsic, who is in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at Berkeley. According to Butsic, California currently has more than one million irrigated acres of almonds.

He stresses that the issue lies in the placement of the sites: “Close to streams, far from roads, and on steep slopes — cannabis may be a case of the right plant being in the wrong place.”

Last year, California legislature passed laws designed to regulate medical marijuana production, and state voters will weigh in on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this coming fall. Given these changes as well as the profitability of cannabis production, Butsic expects that marijuana cultivation will expand into other sites with suitable growing conditions throughout the region. He and Brenner assert that ecological monitoring of these hotspots should be a top priority.

Bills recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown have made some advances in this direction — requiring municipalities to develop land use ordinances for cannabis production, forcing growers to obtain permits for water diversions, and requiring a system to track cannabis from when it is first planted until it reaches consumers.

But the researchers say that regulation will likely be a constant challenge because it will rely on monitoring procedures that are just now emerging, as well as voluntary registration from producers and budget allocation from the state for oversight and enforcement.

“Some of the same fundamental challenges that face researchers face regulators as well, primarily that cannabis agriculture remains a semi-clandestine activity,” says Brenner. “It has a legacy of lurking in the shadows. We just don't know — and can't know — where every grow exists or whether every grower is complying with new regulations.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 10:20 AM
Tags: Agriculture (7), fish (4), land use (4), marijuana (5), policy (2), Water (20)

International and California water conferences shine new light on lingering drought

Water conferences set course for sustainable water security. (photo Joshua Viers)
The gauge reads 105 degrees in California's state capital as this article is being drafted. The four-year drought has baked itself into the landscape, with dead lawns crunching under feet and trees wilting under the heat, and has so far stolen a year's worth of precipitation. Deprived of moisture, the state has lost to wildfires three times the acreage of an average year. The once green valleys are now murky fishbowls of haze.

The total cost to the state, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS) at the University of California, Davis, is now $2.74 billion and 21,000 jobs.

Some see this as the new normal and new evidence ties it to climate change.

But despite the profound impact on the California agricultural economy, the state is actually doing well. And it's becoming the world's test kitchen for best practices in adapting agriculture to changing water supplies.

A legacy of progressive environmental regulations

“Despite the drought, we have a remarkably robust agricultural system,” says Jay Lund, director of CWS. “If you go back millennia and look at droughts, with a 30 percent loss of water you'd have a 30 percent loss of food production and you'd have 30 percent of the people starving.”

That hasn't happened today, he says, because California agriculture is more diversified than ever and its economy is connected to a world food market that advances despite the drought.

The many tools that UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and others are deploying to help Californians better adapt today are also being translated into immediate lessons for the developing world.

Stockholm comes to Davis 

Starting Sunday, representatives from more than 200 organizations will meet in Stockholm, Sweden, for the World Water Week mega conference. Under the theme Water for Development, they will refine the United Nations' broad Sustainable Development Goals to address the one billion people who would still be without safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Many partners of UC ANR and the UC Davis World Food Center will be leading some of the numerous discussions, including: CGIAR, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

A separate conference at UC Davis in October will then bring the focus to California and water for food. This global event, called Water Policy for Food Security, will draw on lessons from World Water Week through shared speakers like Chris Brown, the general manager of responsibility and sustainability at Olam International, and Claudia Ringler, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, which is co-hosting the event.

Presentations on the Case of California will open two days of panel discussions, ranging from how climate change will impact the cost of water in different regions of the world to how groundwater aquifers can be recharged and how new policies can bolster water markets.

The goal is to seize the momentum now building for an international effort towards #WaterSecurity. By drawing development investors, leading scientists, committed policy makers and global industry partners into one room within the world's number one ag school, the event will set a course of action in sustainably securing water for food and for people across the planet.

Posted on Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 10:23 AM
  • Author: Brad Hooker
 
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