Marijuana Growers Drying Out California Salmon Runs But Massive El Nino Could Save Us All

Coburn Palmer

Marijuana may be decriminalized in California, but stealing water isn't and with the summer heating up, cities across the state are thirsting for the millions of gallons of water being stolen by pot farmers.

Illegal marijuana farms are popping up all across Northern California and growers are siphoning off entire streams to water their cash crop.

Marijuana growing has become a financially lucrative crop as four states have legalized it for recreational use and 10 more are considering it. California even has a petition circulating to legalize marijuana.

Shasta County Code Enforcement Officer Marc Pelote told the Wall Street Journal that regulating the water used by the illegal marijuana farms is almost impossible.

"You can stop them one day, and they'll put in another the next day. They don't care. It's all money, money, money."

A new study by the Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates illegal marijuana farms use about 108 million gallons of water a year. Combined with indoor growers that's almost 55 percent more water than oil companies use in fracking.

While the amount of water being stolen from California's rivers and streams isn't enough to resupply thirsty cities, its absence is damaging local wildlife.

The marijuana growers are siphoning off water during the summer growing season right at the time the salmon need it to spawn, says a new report by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Most diversions for marijuana cultivation occur at headwater springs and streams, thereby removing the coldest, cleanest water at the most stressful time of the year for coho salmon."

A massive El Nino on the horizon might be the answer the state has been looking for.

A Japanese weather satellite is tracking an epic El Nino storm stronger even than the one in 1997 that caused massive flooding.

Recent storms in the Pacific have helped push warm water toward South America ensuring a powerful El Nino storm.

The drought relief could come at a price, however, as the dry California terrain is bad for soaking up rainfall and there could be massive flooding.

As long as the drought ends, Californians probably won't complain.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/David McNew/Getty Images]