The New Mexico cannabis industry is facing a major water challenge | California News California

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By ROBERT NOTT, Santa Fe New Mexican

MADRID, NM (AP) – Where some see desert, Cid and Medina Isbell see opportunities.

On a plot of land on their 30 hectare property north of Madrid, they imagine a greenhouse full of cannabis plants, in which brushes, sunflowers and cacti are now growing.

You are among many hopeful entrepreneurs who are exploring the upcoming legal cannabis production and sale market in New Mexico – the 1. The Isbells have already raised $ 200,000 for their original budget of $ 800,000 and hired an attorney to work at helps to clarify legal problems.

You own the land and are ready to install the security fences and cameras required to obtain a state cannabis production license. But they still have a major challenge.

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Like all potential cannabis producers in New Mexico, the Isbells must prove they have rights to water and adequate supplies before they can apply for a license, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

This can be a problem, especially for rural farmers, in a state with complicated laws dividing limited supply of water rights, and in the midst of a 20-year mega-drought that threatens to contribute to serious water scarcity. While cannabis growers wishing to operate in facilities within a city can tap into the city’s water supply as commercial customers, those growing outside the city limits must buy or lease commercial or agricultural water rights from another owner – a difficult and time-consuming process.

A house well on private property is not enough.

When the Isbells began setting up a company that produces, manufactures, and sells cannabis, they thought they had their water needs from a domestic well. They were surprised that it wasn’t enough.

“That’s definitely daunting,” said Medina Isbell, 47, a professional photographer who has worked in retail and hospitality.

“Water is becoming a huge factor in our profitability,” said her husband.

The couple plan to build a 10,000 gallon water tank for their first greenhouse. They estimate they will need 30,000 gallons a year as they expand.

If they can’t pump water from a local spring, they will get it, they said. You spoke to local water transport companies. One offered a 6 cent-per-gallon deal, including delivery. This will increase their monthly water budget, which was originally set at $ 200 per month, to $ 1,000 per month.

Cid Isbell, who works in the information technology sector in his mid-50s, is eager to enter a new industry, hire up to 20 employees and build a nest egg for his later retirement.

“It’s going to be difficult, especially with all of the rules we have to follow to get a license,” he said. “But we are determined.”

John Romero, director of the State Engineer’s Office’s water resource allocation program, said people often fail to understand how complex water rights can be in New Mexico. His agency is creating a leaflet to help people wishing to apply for a cannabis grower license navigate the system.

Meanwhile, his staff is answering calls – 25 to 50 a day – about water needs for cannabis.

“We’re doing our best,” said Romero.

He warns that it will take time for any cannabis producer to secure water rights. First, the state has to set the rules for producers by September 1st. The manufacturers then have to submit their documents to the state engineering office for approval.

The office has a backlog of 500 water permit applications so far, including water rights transfer applications, he said, adding that it will likely take eight to ten months for each application to be approved. And the number is likely to rise as applications come in from cannabis producers.

Paula Garcia, executive director of the Acequia Association in New Mexico, seeks to develop a new industry that will strain the state’s limited water supplies. She cited a recent study by the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, which found that legal cannabis markets will increase national water use by 86% by 2025.

Garcia said New Mexico just doesn’t have enough water for the new industry.

“There is already tension in the communities over water distribution,” she said. “The water consumption due to cannabis adds a new demand to an already limited supply.”

Studies in states where cannabis producers have been legally operating for some time don’t paint a clear picture of how much water the New Mexico industry could demand. Much depends on the size of the plants, whether growers are growing cannabis indoors or outdoors, and the irrigation method they use – drip irrigation system or garden hose.

A recent report in BioScience magazine said that a single cannabis plant uses about 22 liters of water per day – not quite 6 gallons. Cannabis plants require less water than alfalfa, corn, potatoes and some fruit trees, the report says, but more water than grapes and melons.

Tony Martinez, CEO of Lava Leaf Organics in Aztec, which supplies medicinal cannabis to Urban Wellness pharmacies, said his company uses 90 gallons of water per plant for one growing season.

For his 400 plants that adds up to about 36,000 gallons from a local water users association.

Lava Leaf plans to expand into recreational cannabis, which could increase its footprint to 8,000 plants. Even then, Martinez said, it would use less than 12% of the allotted water.

According to an October 2020 report on environmental impact by the National Cannabis Industry Association, many studies of water use focus on the effects of illegal outdoor markets, particularly in California.

“Given that much of the nation’s cannabis cultivation is indoors and far from watercourses prone to runoff reductions, the initial warnings about cannabis as a threat to water availability do not go far beyond the original context of illegal cannabis cultivation in Northern California applicable. ”report says.

Still, the report says growing indoors can bring increased demand for municipal water systems.

Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the state’s regulatory and licensing division that oversees the cannabis industry, said she hoped the climatic conditions weren’t an obstacle for aspiring breeders.

The state will measure water use by cannabis companies for the first two years of the legal industry’s operation.

Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Water and Habitat Program Manager for Trout Unlimited, said he remained concerned. During a recent cannabis conference held in Albuquerque, he spoke briefly about the potential negative effects the cannabis industry had on wildlife.

If the state finds that too much water is being used to grow cannabis, Mitchell said, “I think it will be very difficult to reduce production.”

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