Police: Illegal pot grow used 1 million gallons of water
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.
Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team members served a search warrant on a marijuana grow site Wednesday morning in the 9000 block of Hillcrest Road.
The raid revealed 16,827 illegal marijuana plants growing in 87 plastic-covered temporary greenhouses. The grow took up 5.5 acres of the property, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
The black-market marijuana illegally consumed about 1,009,620 gallons of water over the past 40 days, according to conservative estimates of daily water consumption per plant by Oregon Water Resources Department District 13 watermasters.
That amount of water would fill 50 average-sized swimming pools.
Watermasters discovered multiple water use violations on the property, including two illegal wells and an illegal pond, the sheriff’s office said.
Watermasters issued a notice of violation to the responsible parties for the appropriation of groundwater for irrigation and storage at an illegal commercial operation. Such violations are subject to both civil and criminal penalties, the sheriff’s office said.
On scene, one subject was detained, interviewed and released. Detectives identified the primary suspects, and charges are pending from the Jackson County District Attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office said.
The bust also revealed squalid and dangerous living and working conditions for workers on the site. Some slept in tents while others lived inside a makeshift shelter made out of plastic sheeting and poles. To shower, they stood on a wooden pallet in the woods under an irrigation hose, photos from the raid show.
Photos show a large amount of chemicals at the site, including fertilizer.
The site had multiple fire hazards, including propane-powered cooking stoves set up on pallets in the woods, full and discarded gasoline containers and piles of dried-out tree slash, according to photos.
The raid was the result of nine months of investigation. There was no licensing for any type of cannabis growing, handling or processing at the location, the sheriff’s office said.
Jackson County Code Enforcement responded to the scene to conduct an independent investigation. Code enforcement issued citations totaling $180,000 for the 87 nonpermitted greenhouse structures, failing to obtain marijuana production approval and nonpermitted electrical, solid waste and camping within a marijuana production area, according to the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff’s office deputies, Oregon State Police, Rogue Area Drug Enforcement detectives and Homeland Security Investigations assisted with the raid, the sheriff’s office said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.