The Highs and Lows of Growing Weed

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of marijuana and more states are likely to follow. Marijuana sales have been on fire. In 2017, sales were expected to reach $9.7 billion, and analysts are predicting sales of $24.5 billion by 2021, as new states enter the market. Yet, behind the “green gold rush”, an insidious story is unfolding. One fostered by the green and the greed which comes with it. Ultimately one that kills.

MJ
Image Source: Getty Images

It’s well known that Mexican drug cartels are growing weed in remote locations of U.S. national forests. California has been hit the hardest by this illegal activity. As reported by Reuter’s, there are an estimated 50,000 grow sites in California which is believed to comprise about 90% of all illegal pot farming in the United States.  Even with the state’s recent legalization of marijuana, officials expect only about 16,000 of these growers to seek commercial cultivation licenses.

Lack of law enforcement in these vast, remote areas is exploited by growers. The illegal operators are emboldened by limited oversight and will defend their turf if they feel threatened. The Atlantic online article noting that “Growers have followed, detained, threatened, pursued, and shot at officers and civilians, including scientists and field techs. One Forest Service biologist who stumbled upon a grow site in Sequoia National Forest was chased for close to an hour by armed growers.”

Not only are these areas unsafe for any unsuspecting soul rambling about, they are often havens for extremely toxic chemicals used as pesticides or rodenticides. Reuter’s published an online article which details how growers are using “fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.”  These chemicals are so toxic that enforcement officials have been hospitalized after touching plants treated with these chemicals or handling equipment used in their application. Now imagine smoking or ingesting some of that.

Other lethal chemicals found on remote grow sites include aluminum phosphide, for killing rodents and insects; bromadiolone, a restricted-use neurotoxic rodenticide; brodifacoum, an anticoagulant rodenticide; and malathion, an organophosphate insecticide that’s been compared to a watered-down version of the nerve agent sarin.

There is concern that some of these toxin-laden plants are infiltrating legalized medicinal marijuana markets, potentially impacting people with serious health conditions like AIDS or cancer. The Atlantic article noted that “studies and investigations in Colorado and Oregon have found pesticides on marijuana in legal dispensaries, including in products that were supposedly certified pesticide-free.”

Unsuspecting wildlife has taken the greatest hit. In addition to the rodents targeted by growers, the toxic materials have worked their way up the food chain. Researchers at the University of California – Davis revealed that tissue samples from spotted owls and barred owls tested positive for rat poison.  This is a significant concern because the northern spotted owls are listed as a threatened species under federal and state Endangered Species acts.

Other animals found dead at grow sites include Pacific fishers, bears, vultures, foxes, and deer; presumably from ingesting one or more of these chemicals. There are even concerns about cattle being poisoned by marijuana farms. These illicit activities also impact and kill aquatic organisms; including fish.

Another pressing concern for California is the impact on local water supplies. California just came out of a 15-year drought. Conditions got so bad in 2015 that Governor Jerry Brown imposed mandatory water reductions of 25% on residents, businesses, and farms. The restrictions continued until March of 2017.

Marijuana is known to be a high-water crop. State officials suggest that growers are watering each plant with about 6 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by 50,000 grow sites and thousands of plants per site and you have monumental water use. As reported in The Atlantic, “the 1.1 million illegal pot plants removed in California in 2016 would have used somewhere around 1.3 billion gallons of water—as much as 10,000 average California households do in a year.” This water use figure becomes even more daunting when you consider enforcement officials consider that 50,000 grow sites state-wide is likely to be a low estimate.

To help regulate excessive water use for cannabis growers, the California State Water Board has established specific “Cannabis Cultivation Water Rights” to help protect stream flows, wetlands, aquatic habitats and even groundwater from negative impacts of cannabis cultivation. These regulations will be applied to legal cultivators of weed but it is extremely unlikely any illegal grower will even acknowledge such regulations.

Illegal growers are only interested in a successful harvest and not in helping the environment. Several reports have verified the intentional destruction of wetland areas, extensive diversion of stream flows, excessive pumping of groundwater as well as toxic chemicals leaching into soils and waterways, potentially impacting downstream users.

Unfortunately, these destructive practices are likely to continue as long as there is a demand for illegal marijuana. Some advocates suggest that legalization in all states will stop or greatly reduce illegal cultivation since the industry will become highly regulated. Until that happens, conditions are likely to remain the same.

Right now, the best thing that legal marijuana users can do for themselves and the environment is to find out where and how their pot is grown. Any legitimate dispensary should be willing to provide that information. If they can’t, shop somewhere else. This issue is too important to go up in smoke.

Arizona Water Pioneers – Jack Swilling

A fractured skull and a bullet lodged in the side would be enough to take down most men, but Jack Swilling wasn’t like most men. One of Arizona’s most colorful characters, Jack had a disposition that varied based upon who you talked to and the amount of opiate-laced painkiller he drank. Family members considered him a loving father, friends thought of him as a generous man and others felt he was a drunken desperado up to no good. At times, history would show he was all three. Yet, in spite of his tumultuous circumstances, Jack fostered a vision to bring water to the Salt River Valley of Arizona and helped put Phoenix on the map.

Jack Swilling

Jack was born in South Carolina on April 1st 1830, the eighth of ten children, but he was no fool. Historians would refer to him as a “Jack of all Trades” because of his diverse professions.  At one point or another he was a civil war veteran (for both sides) farmer, scout, teamster, postal express rider, mill manager and owner, justice-of-the-peace, post-master, business man, politician, contractor and miner. He had all the characteristics of a 19th century Renaissance man.

He exceled at finding gold and had a reputation of being one of the best placer miners of his time. His acquaintance with Colonel Jacob Snively, who discovered gold along the Gila River, would be one of the paradoxical events that led to both his wealth and ultimately his death.

Jack met Snively at the Gila City gold camp, east of Yuma, and would step-up to lead a 215 man expedition against the Yavapai Indians who were raiding the encampment. The Yavapai lived in uncharted territory north of Gila City. The expeditions led him as far north as modern day Prescott.

Becoming familiar with the northern territory, Jack would become a guide for several miners and ultimately help discover some of the most famous mining districts in Arizona history. His mining partners would include Pauline Weaver (Rich Hill), Joseph Walker (Lynx Creek) and Henry Wickenburg (Vulture Mine).

Arguably his biggest discovery would not be gold but water.  During the early to mid-1800s, Arizona primarily relied on river water for its needs. The problem was either too little or too much.  Sudden summer storms could cause rivers to swell and result in devastating floods.  Arizonans longed for a consistent and reliable source of water.

Jacks travels as an express rider and scout often took him though the Salt River valley.  During these trips, he noticed linear mounds of dirt leading from the Salt River to the valley floor. He somehow figured out these mounds were part of an extensive irrigation canal system previously used by ancient native peoples, now known as the Hohokam.

Jack and some business associates put a claim on Salt River water and began to excavate the canals with the intention of using them for irrigation purposes.  He founded the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company in November of 1867 with seven other business partners.

His company would become incredibly successful irrigating crops of barley and wheat and selling them to the miners in Wickenburg. Others saw the success of “Swilling’s Ditch” and decided to settle in the area.  This settlement would ultimately be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

There is some historical controversy over whether or not Jack came up with the name for Phoenix or whether his business partner, Darrel (Lord) Duppa coined it. Regardless, this new settlement would come to be associated with Swilling’s Ditch and Jack would become the most memorable founding father of Phoenix.

In the later part of his life, his addictions to opiates and alcohol were getting the best of him. His wife, Trinidad, decided to do an intervention which she hoped would sober him up. She convinced Jack to retrieve his friend Colonel Snively’s bones from where they lay near White Picacho and bring them home for a proper Christian burial. Snively had been killed by Indians several years earlier in March of 1871. Jack complied with his wife’s request and together with Andrew Kirby and George Monroe, went off to perform this noble deed for their former friend.

Upon their return, the threesome was accused of robbing a Wells Fargo stage coach outside of Wickenburg. There wasn’t much tangible evidence but Jack, in self-professed “crazy drunken talk”, basically admitted to the charge. All three were rounded up and sent to prison in Yuma. Jack would die in prison on August 18, 1878 before bail was met. Andrew and George were released shortly after his death when the US Marshall who brought them in recanted his allegations. Jack would be posthumously exonerated of this crime.

In the end, Jack made a hasty departure from the physical world. Yet, in spite of horrible pain, hangovers and an incessant hunger for opium, he managed to accomplish feats few other men could imagine. A visionary, Jack ushered in an era of reliable and consistent water that stimulated the explosive growth of Phoenix – now the sixth largest city in the United States. Anyone who has ever lived in this area should acknowledge this man’s success and be grateful for his foresight and incredible fortitude.

 

References:

Bates, Al. “Jack Swilling and the Walker Exploratory Party” – adapted from Bate’s published book “Jack Swilling, Arizona’s Most Lied About Pioneer.” Website. Accessed May 23rd, 2017.

Farish, Thomas Edwin. “History of Arizona – Volume II”. Chapter Xii. Early Pioneers And Settlers, pp. 251-257. The Filmer Brothers Electrotype Company Typographers and Stereotypers, San Francisco. Phoenix, Arizona, 1915. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

“Jack of All Trades: J. W. Swilling in the Arizona Territory”, River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills, AZ. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

Thompson, Clay. “Jack Swilling, the father of Phoenix”, Arizona Republic, May 12th 2011. Website article. Accessed May 17, 2017.

Zarbin, Earl. “The Swilling Legacy”, Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (APCRP). Website accessed May 17, 2017.

Cow-tastrophe in the Making – Environmental Impacts of the Cattle Industry.

Years ago I remember reading reports on the connection between the cattle industry and global warming.  The articles spoke about how cow flatulence (cow farts) produced excessive amounts of methane, one of the worst gases contributing to global warming.  I dismissed the stories mainly because the reporters’ irreverent slants on cow farts impacting our atmosphere seemed laughable.  Now I’m not so sure.

Recently I watched the document “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and was shocked by some of the information revealed. I’ve watched many, many documentaries and have been involved in the environmental movement for decades, but Andersen’s movie left me with an immediate visceral impact. If true, the cattle industry is one of the leading causes of not only climate change but habitat destruction, water pollution and other impending ecological crises.

How could I have missed this HUGE ominous impact to our global ecosystem? Was I living under a rock? I had to know more.

I set to work researching peer-reviewed scientific information on the environmental impacts of this industry. I wish I could report Andersen’s movie was off-base but I can’t. In fact, the information I found was personally devastating. It immediately made me question some of my own behaviors which may be having a bigger impact on the environment than I could ever imagine.  After years and years of conserving, recycling and being an environmental advocate, it seems my good intentions have been short sighted.

Recently, my blogs have been focusing on water use and contamination issues from hydraulic fracking.  I know the fracking industry uses a huge amount of water – 100 billion gallons of water every year in the US – but I was shocked by Andersen’s disclosure that animal agriculture uses 34 TRILLION gallons of water annually in the US – 340 times that of fracking! WOW!

He points out that our personal (domestic use) of water in the US accounts for only 5% of the total water use but agriculture uses 55% of all the water in the economy. Yet all the conservation efforts proposed by the EPA and other groups are focused on getting us to reduce our personal consumption of water. Clearly the focus needs to be elsewhere.

Recent attention has been given to the concept of “embedded water” which is the hidden water needed to create a product. A National Geographic website page called “The Hidden Water We Use” reveals that 1,799 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef. This figure includes 6.6 pounds of grain for feed plus irrigation water, 36.2 pounds of roughage or grasses for feed plus irrigation water and 18.6 gallons of water for drinking and processing per pound of beef.

According to the Home Water Works Organization website, the average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts 8.2 minutes.  If we assume a quarter pound burger uses 450 gallons of water, then just one burger is equivalent to almost one month of daily showers. What an eye-opener!

Consider the larger impact on our globe. McDonalds sells 6,480,000 burgers per day world-wide. If we assume they are all quarter pound patties, then 2.9 billion gallons of water have been used to produce this daily allotment. Now multiply that by all the other burger chains and restaurants selling hamburgers. Now add the steakhouses… Get the picture?  It’s the domino effect on our water supplies.

Clearly our conservation focus should also be on our food consumption habits and not just our home. I’m not saying don’t conserve water at home. Let’s face it, wasting water is wasting water. There’s no need for it. However, if we can make a greater impact on protecting our water resources by changing our diet, isn’t it worth it? Especially when almost all nutritionists purport that a plant based diet is better for our health and is also environmentally sustainable, unlike cattle production.

Of course the water resource issue of the cattle industry is just one small piece of the bigger environmental puzzle. I encourage you to watch Kip Andersen’s “Cowspiracy” documentary for some startling conclusions to this controversy. You can stream it on Netflix or purchase it online.

Also, consider downloading the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options” (2006). This information is too important not to know.

What if by changing our diet we could nip climate change in the bud? Would you do it?