JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. —The Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District works with landowners alongside community members to protect, restore, and manage water quality use. We’re told the organization got calls last May concerning water theft, among other problems with riparian areas, creeks, and rivers.
“The most important uses in our region are both residential commercial, in-stream, irrigation and agriculture uses, there is no approved use for illegal crops such as cannabis grows that aren’t licensed with the state of Oregon,” said project contractor, Chris Hall.
It hired Hall, an outside contractor to dive deeper into the issue. He got to work on researching and gauging the community’s level of concern.
“To research and map the scale of the program which included flying over the valley, videotaping the entire region, and then building a map off of that,” said Hall.
The effort started at the end of July and went through February. The findings, he says show unprecedented water use.
“There was over 1,000 cannabis grows of which 82% of those were never authorized by the state of Oregon, 18% were legal 82 % were not, that’s a lot of unauthorized water use,” he said.
Hall says there are 32-million square feet of cannabis being grown in 1,000 grows in the Illinois Valley, using 15-hundred acre-feet of water. That’s 505 million gallons, which he says is equal to an entire summer months flow of the Illinois River.
“Imagine taking the river that is the name of our valley and shutting it off for an entire month, that’s how much water was sucked off or the equivalent amount of water used,” said Hall.
His work didn’t go unnoticed. It caught the attention of leaders at the state level.
“The governor held a special session in December and they appropriated $5 million towards enforcement of water law. There’s also $25 million that the legislature approved for grants for law enforcement to apply for specifically addressing the cannabis concern,” according to Hall.
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