Water Regulation For Illegal Marijuana Growing Is Tightened By The Oregon Water Resources Department

Even though the year isn’t quite finished, the number of Notices of Violations (NOVs) issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) has increased by 160% from the previous year.

Jake Johnstone, interim administrator of field services for the OWRD, claims that the Senate Bill 5561-related increase in staffing is to blame for the situation.

The OWRD had issued 104 NOVs statewide as of October 6 compared to merely 40 in 2021 and 41 in 2020. 94 of the 104 NOVs were issued in the counties of Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Douglas, Coos, and Klamath.

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The NOV is a notice to any water user that they are in some way in violation of Oregon State water regulations and must either stop using water or correct the violations to avoid additional penalties. It is neither a civil nor criminal consequence. At the conclusion of the compliance/enforcement process, civil penalties are applied.

The OWRD has not yet inflicted any civil penalties on any Oregon-licensed marijuana businesses in 2022.

Johnstone previously discussed with the OWRD why the field personnel found it challenging to issue NOV on illegal marijuana sites. One was that there just wasn’t enough field personnel to handle the volume of unlawful water appropriation operations. The safety of the field employees issuing these citations on certain properties was the other justification.

89 of the 104 NOVs issued statewide had to do with cannabis. The cannabis total includes violations issued at both approved and illegal grow sites because OWRD is still figuring out how to gather this data; nevertheless, according to Johnstone, the majority are issued at an illicit facility.

The majority of these NOVs, it can be noted, are related to raid operations; hence, state or local law enforcement is executing a warrant in these circumstances, according to Johnstone. Sincerely, that is one of the safer situations under which our personnel has the chance to achieve water compliance.

He claims that whenever a local law enforcement agency alerts OWRD of a warrant execution scheduled for the following days, OWRD works to be prepared to accompany the other agencies.

According to OWRD, compliance with regard to unlicensed cannabis activities is attained by stopping all business activity at a location.

An NOV, however, is valid for three years. The OWRD would continue its enforcement procedure and might impose civil penalties through an enforcement order if the operator were to resume their unlawful water activity within that time limit.

According to Johnstone, the compliance and enforcement procedure has always required a lot of work and time, which is why the department has had difficulty in the past.

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Additionally, the funds provided by SB 5561 have assisted in hiring more personnel for the administrative side. The five personnel from the enforcement section were handed to the 14 assistant water masters in addition to the field crew.

According to Johnstone, “those people will have a more specific concentration in traversing the interface of administrative and criminal law, and maybe we’ll get some people in there with experience navigating that.”

Field personnel who are often out in the field every day during irrigation season produce the numbers and data that are provided by the Oregon Water Resources Department. When the irrigation season is over at the end of the year, OWRD will be able to offer the most comprehensive statistics.

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