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Cannabis farmers model water savings

There are many places to look for agricultural examples of how to be water-wise, but you need not look further than California’s cannabis industry for the best models available. You might be wondering, how can such a newly regulated agricultural industry be an example for other agricultural sectors? Stated plainly, cannabis farmers register with the state water board, track water-use, and often utilize rainwater catchment as part of their regenerative farming methods.

Catchment systems utilize various techniques to collect and store rainwater for multiple uses. You can catch water from the tops of houses and any structure. You can then irrigate with it and manage its flow back into the watershed. This method provides an impressive amount of harvested water–you multiply the area of a roof with the amount of rainfall in inches and convert it to gallons (or find a handy rainwater calculator online). Thus one inch of rainfall on a roof that is just 20 feet by 20 feet (400sf) can provide 220 gallons of rainwater. So even in a drought year this is over 3,000 gallons of water for a very small roof space, and in a normal year over 10,000 gallons!

Further water conservation can be achieved by implementing regenerative farming techniques and advanced water retention solutions also modeled by many cannabis farmers. Utilizing sufficient mulch at the base of plants cools soil temperatures and reduces soil-surface evaporation, standard practices for many cannabis farmers.

Currently, about 80% of residential water use in California goes to landscape irrigation, often expansive lawns that serve little purpose. We can instead be using our residential water for other more practical uses; think - front yard ‘victory’ vegetable gardens and native habitat for beneficial insects, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Further, you can grow your own culinary and medicinal herbs, of which cannabis is but one ally.

When you add water catchment solutions to other regenerative farming solutions such as permaculture and hugelkultur systems you have a robust water saving model for all agriculture across the globe. These are systems of scale, available for massive farms as well as for the backyard gardener. Considering we are rounding the corner on 8 BILLION people modeling how to farm not just sustainably but regeneratively, where we are actively sinking water, building subsurface water lenses, and building topsoil, is in all of our best interests.

I’ve worked on a Sonoma County cannabis project where the applicant had already been working with state agencies and resource conservation districts for years to protect endemic freshwater shrimp in the local watershed on their land. The regulated cannabis industry is filled with great leaders such as this example, people who are willing to go the extra mile for the whole. If you dream, as I do, of elk and salmon populations being restored in Sonoma County these are the types of land-owner/public-agency partnerships that we must foster. When cannabis can keep a farmer afloat on a fraction of their land the other areas are ripe for innovative stewardship techniques to restore habitat and manage fire ecology.

The amount of water used to grow, harvest, and make diversified cannabis products is miniscule to the number of jobs and value it creates relative to other ag industries. Cannabis does not require massive amounts of water post processing like many other ag products. Further, due to strict standards, cannabis farmers are de facto “organic” (no certification yet exists due to the federal illegality). This means their farms are often supporting other companion plants and habitats, leveraging limited water for multiple positive uses, a win for local ecology!

With the onslaught of more extensive droughts hitting California each year the need to become more water-wise is crucial for all agricultural industries, residences, and even business areas in urban environments. We need to recognize industries with water-conserving practices and adopt these practices at a massive scale if we want to see a positive step forward for climate change.

We are all in this together, no matter what, and it is up to us to learn by example from those who are pushing water conservation solutions forward. Catch a little water, grow some soil, and thank your local cannabis farmer for leading the way back towards a superior ecological model for agricultural stewardship.

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