Sheriff: Pot grows making drought conditions worse

The Madera County Sheriff's Office says marijuana growers are making the Valley's drought problems even worse.
The Madera County Sheriff's Office says marijuana growers are making the Valley's drought problems even worse.

Sheriff John Anderson says illegal marijuana grows do a lot of damage to the environment. And now with the drought, he's especially concerned about the amount of water they're taking from people who desperately need it.

The video shows agents with the Madera County narcotic enforcement team pulling out hundreds of marijuana plants from a huge grow in O'Neal's last month. They found nearly a million dollars' worth of pot -- and a 2,600 gallon water tank on the property. They say it did not have a permit and was using a generator to pump water from an underground well.

"They're stealing this water," said Madera County Sheriff John Anderson. "It's coming out before it gets a chance to soak into the ground or come down the streams or whatever. They tap into springs and also build dams, I've seen them dam creeks."

Sheriff Anderson says he's even seen pipes and hoses that stretch more than a mile, carrying water to marijuana gardens. He believes it all adds up to make the current drought conditions even worse.

"Last year we got 148,000 plants and each one of them taking six gallons day for 150 day growing season, that's a lot of water that's being used by the marijuana growers," explained Sheriff Anderson.

Authorities say many of the grows up in the foothills and mountains are run by armed drug cartels while those down in the Valley often use or abuse the state's Compassionate User Act.

Sheriff Anderson is asking residents to be aware and report anything suspicious because their water supply may depend on it.
"Anybody that believes there's marijuana growing, even if it has placards for medical marijuana, let us know and we'll go take a look at it and see if they're legal or not," said Sheriff Anderson.

The drought is having a broad impact across Madera County, from farmers to residents who are now under watering restrictions.

In fact, there's an emergency meeting Tuesday night at Parkwood Elementary School for hundreds of homes in that area all running on one well which can no longer keep up with demands.

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