ALBUQUERQUE – More medical marijuana plants are being grown in New Mexico than ever, and the crop could be straining local water supplies.
Two rural water systems in Sandoval County say the crop may be depleting local water supplies, and they say they have been left powerless to stop it, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
The Peña Blanca Water and Sanitation District and Sile Mutual Domestic Water and Sewer Association sent a letter last month to state agencies and legislators describing their concerns over their disappearing water resources.
The water system representatives say New Mexico’s patchwork of medical marijuana regulations has not kept up with the increased strain on rural water supplies.
“The (cannabis) companies may think that the water rights were already taken care of when they purchased the property,” Peña Blanca district president John Gurule said. “We see the potential for these farms to bring economic growth to a rural community, so how do we support that growth while bringing water to our residents?”
The groups are asking that all producers applying for a medical cannabis license prove a valid water right for commercial agriculture with the Office of the State Engineer.
The Sile water system serves 154 people west of the Rio Grande between Cochiti and Kewa pueblos. The Peña Blanca system is responsible for delivering water to 448 people on the east side of the river between the same pueblos.
An average household in the Peña Blanca system uses about 3,000 gallons of water a month, president John Gurule said.
A cannabis farm with greenhouses in Peña Blanca that began operating last year is logging 20,000 gallons of domestic water use per month.
The board members say the increases could point to treated drinking water being used for cannabis irrigation.
New Mexico legalized medical cannabis in 2007. Domestic well water may not be used for agriculture in the state. Farmers must irrigate cannabis or other crops with another water source by acquiring a valid water right.
John Romero, director of the Water Rights Division and the Resources Allocation Program for the Office of the State Engineer, said the affected mutual domestic water systems have a history of poor infrastructure, limited revenue, too many connections, and water overuse. The increase in cannabis production and alleged improper water use may be exacerbating those issues.
“Cannabis hasn’t helped this situation. It is illegal to use domestic well water for agriculture, but it is up to (Sile and Peña Blanca) to enforce that,” Romero said. “We can’t police every mutual domestic water association, but we will work with them and help to see if these properties have a valid water right for what they want to do.”