Cannabis uses a similar amount of water per acre as other agricultural crops in California: Researchers

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The University of California Berkley Cannabis Research Center has been studying water use on cannabis farms since 2017.

The work has relied mostly on water use reports from farmers enrolled in California’s cannabis cultivation program, as well as anonymous farmer surveys.

And while the data surrounding cannabis use, especially on nonpermitted grows, remains limited, the Cannabis Research Center is beginning to form a better understanding of how outdoor cultivation impacts local environments.

According to a brief from the Cannabis Research Center, the “notoriety cannabis has received as a threat to water resources stems from early case studies of illicit cultivation in watersheds home to threatened populations of salmon and other aquatic species.”

By studying water use in permitted cannabis farming, the center hopes to “support policy that accomplishes both environmental protection and the successful development of a regulated cannabis industry.”

Traditionally, water use estimates relied on scaling water demand estimates by individual cannabis plants but researchers have found that water sources and storage capacity of cannabis farms “alter when water is actually withdrawn from the environment, thus emphasizing that diversion timing should be given greater attention than plant demands in estimating stream impacts.”

Additionally, researchers have found that the majority of cannabis farmers in the state use groundwater wells instead of surface water diversions.

“This observation has reframed how the stream impacts of cannabis irrigation are considered,” the researchers note. “Cannabis farms using wells are not required to store water and often draw water on demand throughout the growing season.”

In a brief published last year, researchers found that “cannabis uses a similar amount of water per acre as other agricultural crops in California, but it accounts for a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural water use because crop area is so low.”

This finding is not a surprise to Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, who recently told the Times-Standard that “people have an idea that cannabis is a particularly thirsty plant and it’s never been true.”

“Now that we’re a few years into legalization and have more data, it’s good to see that reflected in the academic research,” DeLapp added.

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