Energy

California Pot Growers Consume More Water Than Fracking

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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Environmental activists have criticized oil and gas companies for using too much water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, while Californians have suffered through a four-year drought.

“It is water that most likely cannot be put back into the water cycle,” Patrick Sullivan with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, told ThinkProgress. “It’s water that is by and large gone for good.”

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” Adam Scow, director for the California branch of the eco-group Food & Water Watch, told Desmogblog.

Reuters reported earlier this year that fracking operations in California used 70 million gallons of water, not all of which was fresh water. That’s about the equivalent usage for 514 homes in a year, according to state officials.

Taken into context, however, fracking water consumption in California is only a tiny fraction of total state water use. In fact, it’s likely that marijuana farmers use more water per year in the Golden State than frackers.

A recent study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found that each marijuana plant uses about 6 gallons of water per day at the outdoor growing sites and greenhouses counted in the study. The marijuana growing season in California is about 150 days.

“Using the plant count estimates multiplied by our per plant daily water use estimate of 22.7 liters we determined that water demands for marijuana cultivation range from 523,144 liters per day (LPD) to 724,016 LPD,” the study found.

Multiplying pot growers’ daily water needs by the the 150-day growing season means marijuana crops use 78.5 million gallons per year to 108.6 million gallons per year. Over the four-year drought 434.4 million gallons of water.

But this study only estimated water use “based on irrigation needs for the marijuana plants counted or the greenhouses measured on that parcel” and not indoor growers which can use up to 172 gallons per day.

“Thus, our water use demand estimates for marijuana cultivation are occurring in addition to domestic household uses that may occur and are also likely satisfied by surface water diversions,” the study noted.

So Northern California marijuana growers could be using up to 55 percent more water than fracking operations throughout the entire state of California. And that doesn’t even count indoor pot growers and those not estimated by the study.

What should be noted, however, is that both fracking and CDFW’s estimates of how much water is used in pot cultivation amount to only a fraction of California’s total annual water use.

As Oregon State University hydrologist notes: “Fracking accounts for 0.00062% of the state’s annual freshwater withdrawals.”

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