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Siskiyou County Targets Illegal Marijuana Grows Through Water Truck Restrictions

Water truck
Water truck

Elected officials in Siskiyou County are trying to crack down on the growth of what they say is large-scale illegal marijuana farming. As Northern California enters a deepening drought, they’re doing it by restricting where water trucks can drive.

According to Ed Valenzuela, a Siskiyou County supervisor, it’s common to see dozens of water trucks driving down rural county roads to what he believes are illegal marijuana farms.

“Marijuana is the big driver here,” Valenzuela says. “We have a huge proliferation of illegal grows that we have been experiencing for the last few years.”

On Tuesday the supervisors passed an ordinance that prohibits water trucks from using certain roads in unincorporated parts of the county. If trucks carrying 100 or more gallons of water are caught, they will be fined $100 fine and be charged with a misdemeanor or infraction. The ordinance applies to around a dozen roads outlined in a corresponding resolution in the Butte Valley and Big Springs areas of Siskiyou County, because of cannabis farming operations there. It does not apply to emergency vehicles.

While the water being shipped may have been purchased legally from agricultural wells, commercial marijuana farming is prohibited in unincorporated parts of Siskiyou County under a 2019 ordinance. Commercial marijuana can legally be grown in California and commercial hemp is allowed in Siskiyou County.

Valenzuela acknowledges $100 could be a small price to pay for large-scale, illicit marijuana farms, but he says, it’s a start.

“If this was a legal operation, I think we’d be talking about a completely different scenario. Illegal marijuana has been around in Siskiyou County unfortunately for a long time, and it’s just getting way out of hand and we’re just trying to get our hands around it,” he says.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.