The NBC News homepage has the above headline telling us that poor, parched California is being sucked dry by marijuana growers. The headline on the story is even worse:
Water-Guzzling Pot Plants Draining Drought-Wracked California
Having spent the first twenty-one years of my life in California and experiencing the nasty drought of 1976-77 (and the general rarity of water that comes with the Californian climate), I do commiserate with my home state and try to keep up on its water woes. But come on, NBC.
Turns out, marijuana takes a lot of water to grow. The story says six gallons of water per plant per day. No idea how that ranks next to, say, an avocado tree or a head of iceberg lettuce, but it does sound like a lot (note that the growers dispute that number). The story goes on to assert that pot growers are taking the seemingly astonishing amount of 156,000 gallons from a single river every day. And that is the story. That this one river is being utilized so heavily. But I don’t think it’s fair to say marijuana growers are sucking the whole state dry.
According to the State of California, agriculture uses 34 million acre feet of water every year to grow over 250 different crops (an acre foot is how much water it takes to flood an acre to a depth of one foot). One hundred fifty-six thousand gallons of water is .48 acre feet. A year’s worth of that is 175 acre feet. Out of a total of 34,000,000 used annually. Roughly .000005% for these particular growers.
So, yes, California has a water problem, and OK yes, that one river might be taking too much of a hit for agriculture use, but no, California is not being “drained” by “guzzling” pot plants. Hardly any of the water used for agriculture is being used by marijuana growers. But a headline about one river being overly utilized for perfectly legal agricultural uses (something the entire state is dealing with, not just this one river and not just because of this one crop) wouldn’t get as many clicks as one blaming pot for the destruction of the state’s environment. And that’s what NBC News’ website is really all about.
FYI, if you have even a passing interest in water in the American Southwest, I can’t recommend Cadillac Desert enough. Such a good read.