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Public Safety

Officials Say 88,000 Marijuana Plants Seized Using San Diego's Water

Medical marijuana clone plants are shown at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Feb. 1, 2011.
Associated Press
Medical marijuana clone plants are shown at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Feb. 1, 2011.

Officials Say 88,000 Marijuana Plants Seized Using San Diego’s Water
The plants were seized at nearly 100 cultivation locations. Officials said the crops are adding to local water woes.

With just three weeks left in the year, marijuana eradication efforts in the San Diego area in 2015 have netted more than 88,000 marijuana plants seized at nearly 100 cultivation locations.

Officials looked at how much the illegal industry is adding to local water woes.

“Because of the concern of the communities, of drought, this was a concern that we want to focus on, to see what kind of impact that really has,” said Gary W. Hill, assistant special agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Agency in San Diego.

Plants seized from outdoor growers translated into about 72 million gallons of water, officials said Thursday. That water sometimes comes from illegally tapping into local water providers, like Valley Center.

“It’s going to cost you money, because I have to raise rates to offset the loss, and if I don’t meet my conservation goals, then I’m going to be fined by the state of California,” said Gary Arant, general manager of Valley Center Municipal Water District.

Over the same period, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Narcotics Task Force and its partner agencies removed roughly 52,400 cannabis plants from public lands, shut down 34 hash-oil labs, confiscated trafficker assets valued at about $464,000 and arrested 115 suspects, the DEA reported.

The raided cultivation sites — 60 of them outdoors and 38 inside structures — posed "a significant threat to public safety," said William Sherman, special agent in charge of the San Diego DEA field office.

The illicit operations also were a significant drain on one of the region's most vital resources, Sherman said.

"All grows seized on public lands and most on private property involve theft of water and diversion of natural sources of water," he told reporters. "During this time of drought, San Diegans should be concerned that our water is being stolen for a criminal enterprise."

Officials estimate that it takes roughly 450 gallons of water to bring a single indoor cannabis plant to harvest and twice that amount for one grown outdoors. Based on those numbers, the marijuana seized locally this year used up some 72 million gallons of water, according to the DEA.

That quantity is enough to serve the needs of 440 average families for 12 months, said Gary Arant, general manager of the Valley Center Municipal Water District.

"Had these marijuana plants been seized from our district, at our current rates for water and pumping, (the theft) would represent $420,000 in lost water and pumping revenue, which (would have) to be made up by our other customers," Arant said.