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AP: In drought-stricken West, farmers of weed are stealing water

A marijuana grow is seen on Sept. 2, 2021, in an aerial photo taken by the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office the day officers raided the site in the community of Alfalfa, Ore. On the 30-acre property in the high desert they found 49 greenhouses containing almost 10,000 marijuana plants and a complex watering system with several 15,000-20,000 gallon cisterns. (Deschutes County Sheriff Via AP)

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Salem, Oregon, correspondent Andrew Selsky revealed that illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts, draining wells used by landowners and farmers — and that overstretched law enforcement can do little about it.

Selsky has covered the impact drought in the West and for years has tracked the burgeoning market for legal pot. But when he checked with sources about water theft by illegal marijuana grows, he quickly found that the situation was dire. Hundreds of huge illegal grows have been erected, too many for law enforcement officials to raid.

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Jack Dwyer stands on the dry creek bed of Deer Creek in Selma, Ore., Sept. 2, 2021. In 1972, Dwyer moved to the idyllic, tree-studded parcel to grow his own food. But decades later, Deer Creek has run dry after several illegal marijuana grows cropped up in the area last spring, stealing water from both the stream and aquifers and throwing Dwyer’s future in doubt. – Carol Valentine via AP

He tracked down a resident in southern Oregon who for decades has depended on a creek for growing food. That creek has gone completely dry since large illegal marijuana grows began popping up in the area last spring. The local sheriff described “catastrophic” consequences for natural water resources, citing “blatant theft.”

The problem is showing up in other parts of the state and in California, where in one county some 2,000 illegal marijuana grows were purportedly using millions of gallons of water daily. Selsky visited a neighborhood in central Oregon where a homeowner was having a new well drilled after his existing well ran dry just a block away from a recently busted illegal grow.

Selsky’s story scored with some of AP’s strongest reader engagement of the week.

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