Water theft

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Water theft is a crime committed mostly by cannabis growers in California and other regions where water is scarce. Cannabis requires enormous amounts of water, typically double what commodity crops use. California Drug Enforcement Administration agent Curt Fallin observed in 2021:

By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.[1]

Water theft by cannabis growers was also mentioned in a scholarly analysis of the issue.[2] As observed by a California legislator:

While law-abiding residents face particularly intense drought conditions, illegal growers steal water, worsening the already-heavy strains on California’s water supply. The water thievery has reached record levels and is compromising the health and safety of our communities. In a 2021 news conference, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent calculated that “illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.”

These illegal growers also blatantly disregard environmental concerns, leading to stripped-bare landscapes, deforestation, and wildfires, while their misuse of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers poisons the land and the groundwater that residents use to bathe and drink.

But the growers do not stop there. While many families and businesses are already feeling the crunch of today’s economy, legal growers are further pushed out of the market by illicit activity.[3]

Giant water drums

Giant water drums are used by the cannabis growers to steal water. "Giant water drums were destroyed and left behind after Q Bar X Ranch was raided by police last year. Illicit growers often siphon water from local rivers or wells and fill drums like these to water their cannabis crop."[4]

Blatant theft by illegal pot growers

As reported by AP:

From dusty towns to forests in the U.S. West, illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn’t enough to go around for even licensed users. Conflicts about water have long existed, but illegal marijuana farms — which proliferate despite legalization in many Western states — are adding strain during a severe drought. ...

“Because peak water demand for cannabis occurs in the dry season, when streamflow is at its lowest levels, even small diversions can dry streams and harm aquatic plants and animals,” a study from the [Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley] said.[5]

Oregon bust 2022

An illegal cannabis operation in Oregon stole more than 1 million gallons of water in the summer of 2022, before it was busted in August:

Investigators said a massive illegal marijuana grow east of Medford used more than 1 million gallons of water this season before getting busted Wednesday.

News of the alleged water theft comes as legal farms, vineyards and orchards are struggling with a multiyear drought and irrigation water shortages in Jackson County.[6]


Mark Twain:

In the West, whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/28/water-theft-drought-cannabis/
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-0589-3.epdf?sharing_token=z4HqzWXdqHTFsfff5b3jN9RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PKSBHAtzRLLFHndYPi3aK0JZX_8QFXoi-TzOLWhpQ7zp73oHGOWYMeMvvyEpliT0aNbOfz28OOO_UewdQS38N4NNYN0t0OPdmvhz1n6p_xUYPAXIXz2-95DouVf6g-UJS_hP4iCH0T9TdSQgydh6OfP7k5Xz_tC8VctH_45KqRDY07uoUN141R_lDd5zvgYA0%3D&tracking_referrer=www.washingtonpost.com
  3. https://www.dailynews.com/2022/07/31/illegal-marijuana-grows-threaten-antelope-valleys-way-of-life
  4. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/10/02/weed-cannabis-undocumented-immigrants-00059827
  5. https://apnews.com/article/business-environment-and-nature-oregon-droughts-marijuana-333e813d352fd2343e3adfe4f954e61a
  6. https://www.mailtribune.com/top-stories/2022/08/11/police-illegal-pot-grow-used-1-million-gallons-of-water/