Water pumping changes are a reasonable step
Changes to the Medford Water Commission’s water-pumping policies and rates are a reasonable response to a spike in usage, and should give law enforcement and state water officials an essential tool to use against illegal cannabis growers.
The commission’s pumping station on North Columbus Avenue dispenses water to all comers for a fee. The station was installed 25 years ago to help rural residents with dry or under-producing wells.
In the past five years, the amount of water dispensed has more than doubled, from 9.1 million gallons to 20.7 million gallons annually. To put that in perspective, the pumping station dispenses in year what the water commission delivers in half a summer day to its ratepayers.
Still, it’s worth keeping tabs on how much is being pumped and hauled across the valley, especially given the explosion of hemp and cannabis growing, both legal and illegal. The commission has no way of knowing how much water is being hauled for that purpose, but the Legislature wants it to start keeping track of usage.
House Bill 4061, signed into law in March, requires water suppliers to maintain records of water sales for 12 months and provide them to law enforcement or the state Water Resources Department on request. The law, which takes effect June 3, provides criminal penalties for anyone hauling or arranging to haul water for an unregistered or unlicensed cannabis grow site that is cultivating more plants than allowed. The owners of water hauling companies or growing operations can be fined up to $25,000 for violating the law.
The fines also apply to anyone appropriating surface or groundwater without a permit for illicit cannabis growing.
To comply with the law, the water commission this week is installing a new keypad system at the filling station. Instead of dropping money into a machine anonymously, users will have to establish an online prepaid account and enter a PIN to dispense water.
Once a monthly limit of 15,500 gallons a month is reached — about what a residential customer uses during the summer — no more water will be dispensed to that account. Previously, there was no limit.
The cost is going up as well, from $1.16 per 1,000 gallons to $4.01.
These changes should help authorities put the squeeze on illegal cannabis growing, while maintaining a system that helps residential water customers cope with the continuing drought.