(CN) – A California board that protects water from degradation by marijuana farms has issued its first fine: $297,400 against a landowner and a contractor in Shasta County.
It’s the first penalty issued by the multi-agency Cannabis Pilot Project, staffed by state and regional water boards and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board announced the fine Friday.
The Cannabis Pilot project was formed specifically to address adverse environmental impacts caused by marijuana cultivation in California
Landowner Christopher Cordes and contractor Eddie Axner Construction face the substantial fine for large-scale grading causing actual and potential harm to surface waters in the Ono area of Shasta County, the water board said.
Cordes bought and developed the land to grow marijuana, the water board said. Development included unpermitted grading and terracing of 3.8 acres and 1.5 miles of roads, resulting in unlawful discharges of erodible sediment in pristine surface waters that provide habitat for aquatic organisms that are an important food source for fish, amphibians, birds and other wildlife, the board said.
The discharges and fill in tributaries of North Ford of Cottonwood Creek violate the Clean Water Act and the California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the board said.
“The land-grading activities could have been completed in a manner that would have avoided violations to our water quality protection laws and regulations,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer for the water board. “The penalty adopted by the board reflects the egregious nature of these violations and the importance of holding all involved parties accountable.”
Cordes and Axner also were ordered to remediate the damage.
The cannabis project regulates marijuana cultivation on private land, to help growers farm in an environmentally friendly manner, while authorizing enforcement action where necessary, the water board said.
Although the program regulates legal marijuana grows for medical use, its regulators will focus on the environment – not whether growers have proper medical marijuana documentation, according to the water board, which said it will not enter the debate about the legality of growing marijuana in California.
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