Is Humboldt County Water Wise?

Marisa St. John

On July 20, 2021 the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors declared a Countywide Drought Emergency, yet new (and existing) cannabis cultivation permits continue to be approved. Here at the NEC, we became curious about how much estimated water usage the Humboldt County cannabis industry applied for (both for grow sites and nurseries); how many permits were approved (new and existing operations); how many permits were denied, cancelled or modified; and how many permits had yet to be presented to the Zoning Administrator/Planning Commission/Board of Supervisors.

In the permitting process, estimated water usage and area of each proposed project are collected. Based on public records requests and conversations with County staff, it appears that cumulative water usage per watershed is not being tracked by the County, despite the fact that the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution placing a cap on the number of permits and acreage by watershed in 2018 (Resolution 18-43).

How can the Zoning Administrator, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors make informed decisions without having this information? What are the negative impacts to our communities and watersheds?

Before anyone thinks that we are attacking the cannabis industry versus wine grape or tomato growers, we are delving into this because cannabis growing requires permits and it appears that the County continues to approve new and existing cannabis projects even while we are under a drought emergency and without having basic information to determine if those permits have potential negative cumulative impacts to watersheds or communities, or if they exceed the permit and acreage caps by watershed.

Since it appears that the County is not tracking information nor will it provide it (according to responses to Public Records Requests), we are manually compiling the information from public data (monthly cannabis reports, the county permitting system, meeting agendas, and staff reports) in order to get a better picture of how this industry is affecting our watersheds. If you are aware of any information that could help us, or if you want to help with this process, please contact us at You will remain anonymous unless you tell us otherwise.