Cannabis Cultivation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Please click on a topic below to view a list of frequently asked questions and answers:
Why are the Water Boards regulating cannabis cultivation?
Following recent changes in state law and voter-approved initiatives, California’s commercial cultivation of cannabis for medical and recreational use is expected to grow significantly. Cannabis cultivation often occurs in remote or biologically sensitive areas in California. Despite best intentions, the lack of knowledge of the impacts of such remote cultivation has caused problems and will continue to cause problems unless rules are put in place. Left unregulated, cannabis cultivation can pose serious threats to water quality, fish and wildlife, aquatic habitats, and wetlands. Environmental impacts due to cannabis cultivation can include the release of fertilizers, pesticides and other supplements that degrade water quality or threaten wildlife. Excessive diversions can injure fish or even dry up smaller streams. The risks to water quality from unregulated cannabis cultivation and irrigation techniques include sediment loading and debris deposit in waterways, and physical alteration of the land that can harm stream habitat and the wildlife in and around the stream.
What is the Water Boards Cannabis Cultivation Program?
The Water Boards Cannabis Cultivation Program has four main components to address potential water quality and quantity issues related to cannabis cultivation:
- Cannabis Cultivation Policy – Principles and Guidelines for Cannabis Cultivation (Cannabis Policy)
- Cannabis General Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges of Waste Associated with Cannabis Cultivation Activities (Cannabis Cultivation General Order)
- Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration (Cannabis SIUR) water right
- Cannabis Cultivation Enforcement
More information is available on the Cannabis Cultivation homepage.
How is the Water Boards permit system related to what the Department of Food and Agriculture is doing?
The Cannabis Policy was developed in consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The requirements of the Cannabis Policy are incorporated into commercial cannabis licenses issued by the CDFA under its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program. This approach allows all the state agencies with responsibility over different parts of the cannabis cultivation industry to work together.
The Cannabis Policy fulfills legislative mandates to support the CDFA CalCannabis Licensing Program.
For more information on CalCannabis Licensing, please visit their CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing website.
Do I have to pay fees for Water Boards permits and certificates?
Yes, both the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and Cannabis SIURs require payment of fees and will accept cashier’s checks/money orders, electronic (EFT) payments, credit cards or cash payments. Although the State Water Board does accept cash, we request that fee payers pay with money orders or cashier’s checks, or pay electronically instead of cash. The State Water Board can ONLY accept cash payments in person in Sacramento at the CalEPA Headquarters building (1001 I Street, Sacramento). Appointments will need to be made in advance, for security reasons, so that courier services can be arranged to take cash payments directly to a financial institution following the transaction.
To learn more about how to make a payment to the State Water Resources Control Board, please visit the Water Boards' Payment webpage.
What do I need to do to comply with the Water Boards Cannabis Program requirements?
Cannabis cultivators can apply for coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and file for a Cannabis SIUR through the online Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal.
What are the incentives for me to comply with the Water Boards Cannabis Cultivation Program?
The Cannabis Policy, Cannabis Cultivation General Order, and Cannabis SIUR Program are a path towards legal cultivation practices that protect water supplies and the environment. Cannabis cultivators that enroll in the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and file for a Cannabis SIUR, if needed, will have clearly established their commitment to operating a legitimate business and being earnest, environmentally responsible, stewards of the land. Cultivators can minimize their exposure to potential Water Board enforcement by enrolling and taking reasonable and diligent actions to comply with the statewide rules for water quality and water right allocations in California. Cultivators who demonstrate a willingness to take corrective actions and make good faith attempts to comply with the Water Boards Cannabis Cultivation Program are less likely to be subject to formal enforcement and potential liability.
What if I just want to grow a few plants for personal use?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order allows for an exemption for personal use so long as the cannabis cultivator disturbs less than 1,000 square feet of land, complies with the requirements of the Cannabis Policy, and cultivates on slopes of less than 20 percent (coalitions and cooperatives cannot claim this exemption). If you are diverting surface water for any purpose, including personal or commercial cannabis cultivation, you must have a legal water right.
What exactly does the Cannabis Policy do?
The Cannabis Policy establishes statewide cannabis cultivation requirements. The requirements established by the Cannabis Policy will be incorporated into a water quality permit and water right (if needed) issued by the Water Boards.
The first permit is a water quality permit referred to as the General Waste Discharge Requirements and Wavier of Waste Discharge requirements for Discharges of Waste Associated with Cannabis Cultivation Activities Order (Cannabis Cultivation General Order).
The Cannabis Cultivation Policy requires cannabis cultivators to forbear (or cease) from diverting surface water during the dry season. Cannabis cultivators that divert surface water will therefore need to get a Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration or other appropriative water right that allows for storage of water for irrigation. Riparian water rights, which typically apply to property next to a creek, river, or lake, do not allow for storage.
The requirements of the Cannabis Policy, are also conditions of the commercial cannabis licenses issued by CDFA under its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program. This is done so that all the agencies given responsibility with different parts of the cannabis cultivation industry will be coordinating and working together to issue licenses.
What does the Cannabis Policy require?
The Cannabis Policy establishes principles and guidelines (requirements) for the diversion and use of water, land disturbances, and the activities related to cannabis cultivation to protect water quantity and quality. The requirements help to minimize the effects of cannabis cultivation on fisheries, wildlife, cultural resources, water quality, maintain healthy riparian corridors, and protect springs, wetlands, and aquatic habitat. The requirements are found in Attachment A of the Cannabis Policy. There are five main categories of cannabis cultivation requirements to protect water quality and instream flows, which are organized into five sections. Below is an overview of the types of requirements located in each section. For a more detailed overview of the requirements please review the Cannabis Cultivation Policy.
Section 1. General Requirements and Prohibitions, and General Water Quality Certification for Cannabis Cultivation Activities
- Rules and authorities applicable to all cultivators, including:
- Right of access by agencies to inspect for compliance
- Laws about tribal lands and cultural resources
- General water quality rules such as riparian setbacks, limitations on slope of land being disturbed
- Cannabis General Water Quality Certification
- Cannabis cultivator shall comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, including but not limited to:
- Clean Water Act; California Water Code; all applicable state, city, county, or local regulations; California Department of Fish and Wildlife requirements (Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement, etc.); CAL FIRE requirements; and CEQA and National Environmental Policy Act
- Minimum riparian setbacks
Section 2. Requirements Related to Water Diversions and Waste Discharge for Cannabis Cultivation
- General erosion control measures for entire cultivation site
- Stream crossings and installation, culverts, road development
- Management of fertilizers, pesticides, and petroleum
- Cleanup, restoration, and mitigation on existing sites
- Proper soil, cultivation, and human waste disposal
- Control of irrigation runoff
- Appropriate methods of water diversion and storage
- Maximum diversion rate: 10 gallons per minute (unless otherwise approved in existing water right)
- Winterization (preparing post-harvested lands for adverse weather conditions)
- Onstream reservoir prohibitions, exceptions and requirements
Section 3. Numeric and Narrative Instream Flow Requirements
- 50 percent bypass of streamflow past the point of diversion
- Surface water forbearance period during the dry season (no diversions are allowed April 1 through October 31 of each year)
- Numeric instream flow requirements (these phrases mean the minimum amount of water that must be left in a stream, and the amount of water that must flow past your diversion during the wet season when water diversions are allowed)
- Measure and record daily water diversion and use
- Provisions to institute groundwater diversion requirements, if necessary to protect surface flows
- Requirements for fully contained springs
- Gage installation and maintenance
Section 4. Watershed Compliance Gage Assignments
- Policy establishes minimum monthly flows at compliance gages
- Watershed areas without existing gages are assigned a compliance gage for a different location in same watershed or a nearby watershed with similar flow characteristics
- During diversion season, cannabis cultivators are required to check their compliance gage assignment at least daily and prior to diverting water to ensure water is available to divert at assigned gage
- Compliance gage assignments may change as more information becomes available
Section 5. Planning and Reporting
- Technical reports and monitoring required under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order
What is a forbearance period? Are there any exceptions?
A diversion forbearance period is a time period when diverters are not allowed to divert water. The Cannabis Policy includes a statewide surface water forbearance period for cannabis cultivators from April 1 thru October 31 of each year. The surface water forbearance period may start earlier (before April 1) or end later (after October 31) depending on rainfall and streamflow conditions. The Cannabis Policy does not include a forbearance period for groundwater wells at this time, however a forbearance period may be established, if needed, to protect surface flows.
Yes, there are exceptions to the forbearance period to address local conditions. If the cannabis cultivators and CDFW enter into an agreement for alternative flow requirements (numeric, narrative, and/or forbearance) that CDFW determines provides watershed-wide protection for the fishery that is comparable to or greater than the instream flow requirements provided in the Policy, the cannabis cultivator or cultivators may request approval from the Division of Water Right’s Deputy Director to implement the agreement in place of the instream flow Requirements in the Policy.
What right does the State Water Board have to regulate springs and groundwater on my property?
The State Water Board has public trust authorities and waste and unreasonable use authorities over all waters of the state, which include springs and groundwater. In addition, recent legislation directed the State Water Board to develop requirements for cannabis cultivation that include measures to protect springs, wetlands and aquatic habitat. These may also include requirements that apply to groundwater diversions where the State Water Board determines they are reasonably necessary.
If I need to purchase water from a bulk water hauler to deliver to my cultivation site, does it have to be potable water?
No, but be aware that Section 2 of Requirement 94 of Attachment A requires that a cannabis cultivator retain, for a minimum of 5 years, a copy of the Water Hauler’s License pursuant to California Health and Safety Code section 111120, licensed through the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), if applicable.
The CDPH requires that a hauler obtain a Water Hauler License if the hauler delivers potable water, or a combination of potable water and food product. The procedures for obtaining such a license can be found here. A bulk water hauler that only delivers non-potable water is not subject to the CDPH Water Hauler Licensing requirements. Cannabis cultivators receiving deliveries of non-potable water from a bulk water hauler, who does not otherwise deliver potable water, are not required to obtain a copy of that hauler’s Water Hauler License, but must retain for a minimum of five years receipts that shows the date of delivery and the name, address, license plate number, and license plate issuing state for the water hauler; copy of proof of the Water Hauler’s water right, groundwater well, or other authorization to take water, and the location of the water source; and quantity of water delivered or picked up from a water source, in gallons (see Attachment A, Section 2, Requirement 94 for more information).
What is the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
The purpose of the Cannabis Cultivation General Order is to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that discharges to waters of the State do not adversely affect the quality and beneficial uses of such waters. The Cannabis Cultivation General Order is a simplified Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) available to cannabis cultivators, that can comply with the applicable requirements, to regulate discharges of waste associated with cannabis cultivation. Threats of waste discharge may be from irrigation runoff, over fertilization, pond failure, road construction, grading activities, domestic and cultivation related waste, etc. The Cannabis Cultivation General Order WDRs may be referred to as a “Water Quality Permit” or a “Water Quality Protection Enrollment” by other agencies.
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order implements the Cannabis Policy requirements and addresses activities related to cannabis cultivation or associated land development. Cannabis cultivation activities may occur indoor or outdoor. Unless exempt, all cannabis cultivators must obtain coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order or its associated Conditional Waiver.
What discharge activities does the Cannabis Cultivation General Order cover?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order addresses activities related to cannabis cultivation or associated land development. “Discharger” is defined as any person or entity engaged in developing land for cannabis cultivation, providing access to land for cultivation activities, or any person or entity engaged in the cultivation of cannabis that discharges or threatens to discharge waste. The requirements also apply to cannabis cultivators and land developers that prepare sites to allow cannabis cultivation activities to occur.
Do the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Water Boards) use the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order is the primary method for the Regional Water Boards to permit waste discharges from cannabis cultivation activities; however, the Cannabis Cultivation General Order is not the only way to permit discharges from cannabis cultivation sites. Regional Water Boards may regulate cannabis waste discharges through site-specific WDRs issued for an individual discharger. Any WDR or waiver of WDRs issued for cannabis cultivation must comply with the requirements of the Cannabis Policy.
What does the Cannabis Cultivation General Order authorize?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order provides authorization to discharge waste generated by cannabis cultivation and associated activities. Cultivation activities may occur indoor or outdoor. Some activities that require a water quality certification (e.g., construction of a surface water diversion structure) may be covered by the Cannabis Cultivation General Order at the discretion of the Regional Water Board Executive Officer. The Cannabis Cultivation General Order does not provide a water right.
What types of Cannabis Cultivation General Order coverage are available?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order provides an exemption for personal non-commercial activities, conditional exemption for small commercial outdoor cultivation activities or indoor commercial cultivation activities, and enrollment under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order for larger commercial cultivation activities. In addition, site conditions (slope and/or proximity to water bodies) are considered in determining the risk to water quality.
Personal Use Exemption
Conditional Exemption (outdoor)
Conditional Exemption (indoor)
≥2,000 ft2 and < 1 acre
What is disturbed area and how is it calculated?
Disturbed area is defined as land area where natural conditions have been modified in a way that may result in an increase in turbidity in storm water discharged from the site, such as by removal of natural plant growth or modification of natural grade. Land disturbed for construction of roads, buildings, water storage areas, soil amendment storage areas, excavation, grading, or site clearing are included in the total disturbed area calculation.
Existing access roads that were constructed and are maintained in accordance with the Handbook for Forest, Ranch, and Rural Roads, or areas where plant materials have been removed for wildfire suppression (but will regrow with seasonal precipitation) are not considered disturbed and are not included in the total disturbed area calculation.
How is risk defined for Tier 1 or Tier 2 sites?
|Low Risk1||Medium Risk1||High Risk1, 2|
No portion of the disturbed area is located on a slope greater than 30 percent
All of the disturbed area complies with the setback requirements
Any portion of the disturbed area is located on a slope greater than 30 percent,
All of the disturbed area complies with the setback requirements
Any portion of the disturbed area is located within the setback requirements
1 The Cannabis Policy does not allow any portion of the disturbed area to exist on a slope greater than 50 percent.
2 The high-risk designation is a temporary designation until the site can comply with the setback requirements and can be reclassified as a low- or moderate-risk site. The enrollee must request reclassification from the Regional Water Board when the disturbed area within the setback is stabilized.
What are the Cannabis Cultivation General Order’s setback requirements?
The Cannabis Cultivation General Order’s setback requirements are based on proximities to a surface water body per the requirement of the Cannabis Policy. A summary table is provided below. Please refer to the detailed table containing the setback requirements in the Cannabis Policy (Attachment A, Section 1, Requirement 37). The site is classified as high-risk if any of the setbacks are not met.
|Perennial watercourses, springs, or seeps||I||150 ft.|
|Intermittent watercourse or wetlands||II||100 ft.|
|Ephemeral watercourses||III||50 ft.|
|Man-made irrigation/water supply, etc.||IV||Riparian Zone|
How do small commercial outdoor cannabis cultivators apply for the conditional exemption?
Small commercial outdoor cannabis cultivators apply for coverage through the Water Boards online Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal. Only one exemption can be claimed per parcel. Cannabis cultivators that participate in coalitions, cooperatives, or other combinations of cultivation activities cannot claim the conditional exemption for activities on the same parcel. The cultivation activity must also meet the following criteria:
- Disturb less than 2,000 square feet
- The cultivation area is contiguous (all located in one area)
- Comply with the Cannabis Cultivation General Order setback requirements
- No part of the disturbed area is located on land with a slope greater than 20 percent
- Implement all applicable requirements in Attachment A of the Cannabis Policy
Do commercial indoor cannabis cultivators apply for Cannabis Cultivation General Order coverage?
Commercial cannabis cultivation activities that occur within a structure with a permanent roof, a permanent, relatively impermeable floor (e.g., concrete or asphalt paved), and that discharge or haul all industrial wastewaters generated to a community sewer system consistent with the sewer system requirements, are classified as conditionally exempt. Commercial indoor cannabis cultivators apply for coverage through the Water Boards online Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal.
Indoor cannabis cultivators will either have access to a community sewage collection system, or will discharge their wastewater to an onsite wastewater treatment system (e.g., a septic tank and leach field system). Those dischargers with access to a community sewage collection system shall obtain authorization from the wastewater operator for the discharge (typically an industrial waste discharge permit). Those dischargers that want to discharge to an onsite system are required to obtain authorization from the Regional Water Board. Local agencies (e.g., environmental health departments) cannot permit cultivation wastewater discharges to domestic septic systems because cultivation wastewater discharges are not considered domestic wastewater as defined by the statewide Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) Policy.
How do Tier 1 or Tier 2 outdoor cannabis cultivators apply for coverage?
Tier 1 or Tier 2 outdoor cultivators apply for coverage online as described in the Cannabis Cultivation General Order. The application process will prompt the applicant to enter information that will classify the activity as either Tier 1 or Tier 2, determine their risk level, and identify what technical reports are required.
Who can apply for coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
Business entities, employees, contractors, third party representatives, landowners, cannabis cultivators, lessees, and tenants may apply for coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order
How can I be covered by the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
Cannabis cultivators can apply for coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order through the Water Boards online Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal. Cannabis cultivators can also file for their Cannabis SIUR at the same time, if needed. Upon submittal of an application for coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order, a Notice of Receipt will be issued via e-mail. The Notice of Receipt will indicate the application fee assessed, and the process to pay the fee (within 30 days). Upon payment of the fee, the applicable Regional Water Board will issue a Notice of Applicability (NOA). The NOA can be used as proof of coverage when applying for a CDFA CalCannabis Cultivation License.
Is there a fee? How much?
Yes. All entities that produce commercial cannabis are required to obtain coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and are required to pay a fee. Fees are based on the site complexity and threat to water quality. Fee schedule changes are proposed annually through a public process and updated if adopted by the State Water Board.
Visit the Water Quality Fees website and click on the latest Water Quality Fee Schedule (for example, for fiscal year 2020-2021, the fee schedule is called 'FY 2020-2021 Water Quality Fee Schedule'). Current cannabis fees are displayed under the section 2200.7 ‘Annual Fee Schedule for Cannabis Cultivation' section.
Annual fees are assessed on a fiscal year basis (July 1 through June 30). Invoices are sent by the State Water Board roughly midway through each fiscal year, usually in January. If you have questions or concerns about your fees please contact the Water Boards Fee Branch at FeeBranch@waterboards.ca.gov or (916) 341-5247. The fee is due and payable on an annual basis until coverage under the General Order is formally terminated.
How do I terminate coverage under the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
Except for cannabis cultivators that qualify for the personal use exemption, all cannabis cultivators that are enrolled or conditionally exempt are required to submit a Site Closure Report and a Notice of Termination form when ending cannabis cultivation activities. The Notice of Termination form can be completed online through the Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal and selecting the Cannabis Order Termination Request Form. The Notice of Termination is included in the Cannabis Cultivation General Order as Attachment C. Guidance on how to prepare a Site Closure Report is available in Cannabis Cultivation General Order Attachment D.
What monitoring and reporting requirements exist in the Cannabis Cultivation General Order?
Tier 1 and Tier 2 cannabis cultivators are required to monitor and submit an annual monitoring report to the applicable Regional Water Board. The annual monitoring report can be completed online through the Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal and selecting the Cannabis Water Quality Monitoring & Reporting Program. Cannabis Cultivation General Order Attachment B presents the monitoring and reporting program (MRP). The Regional Water Board Executive Officer may revise a MRP if site conditions warrant additional monitoring and reporting to protect water quality.
What is a water right, and why do I need permission to get water from a nearby stream or river if nobody else is using it?
A water right provides an individual the right to use surface water for beneficial purposes, such as irrigation (includes cannabis cultivation), domestic needs, municipal services, recreation, and protection of the environment. Water right holders do not own the water, but they have the right to use it. Water rights are administered by the State Water Board, and have a priority order, based on seniority and the type of right. The water right priority system is what determines who gets to use water first in times of shortage.
More information on the water rights process can be found by visiting the Water Rights’ Frequently Asked Questions page.
How do I know if I need to get a water right?
There are multiple ways to obtain water for irrigation and we have outlined below the most common water sources for commercial cannabis irrigation. If you have difficulty determining which category you are in or are unsure of the technical and regulatory aspects of your diversion, you should consider hiring a professional engineer, geologist, or other qualified professional to assist you.
- If you divert water from a surface waterbody (stream, spring, lake, pond, etc.) or subterranean stream you need to have a valid water right. Cannabis cultivators need a water right that includes a beneficial use of irrigation and authorized storage with a diversion season between November 1 and March 31. Water rights that can be used for cannabis cultivation include:
- Cannabis cultivators do not need to get a water right if their water source is any of sources below. If your water source is one of the following, please click on the water source link for additional frequently asked questions, information, and instructions.
I am planning to divert water from a stream for my cultivation site. What do I need to do?
The Cannabis Policy requires cannabis cultivators to forbear (or cease) from diverting surface water during the dry season. Storage is not allowed under a riparian right claim. Therefore, cannabis cultivators that divert surface water will need to acquire an appropriative water right or registration if they plan to irrigate cannabis during the dry season. The State Water Board Division of Water Rights has developed the Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration (SIUR) to allow cannabis cultivators to quickly obtain a water right to develop and install storage. The Cannabis SIUR allows for the diversion and storage of up to 6.6 acre-feet of water per year and incorporates the requirements of the Cannabis Policy, amongst other requirements, as general conditions. Cannabis cultivators can file for a Cannabis SIUR through the Water Boards online Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal.
Certain water sources are restricted from allowing new diversions, or may become restricted due to unavailability of water, such as during droughts. All sources of surface water will be continuously evaluated to determine if there is enough water remaining to support new Cannabis SIURs. The amount of water available may be restricted by others already using or filing for that water source, as well as any environmental considerations such as minimum instream flows. Therefore, prompt filing of a Cannabis SIUR is important. Cannabis cultivators will be required to submit information on their water source(s) when applying for CDFA’s CalCannabis Cultivation License. If the source is a surface water diversion, cannabis cultivators will need to provide documentation that they have a legal right to divert from the surface water source and have an existing water right, as required.
What does the Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration require?
The Cannabis SIUR requires the cannabis cultivator to abide by the applicable requirements of the Cannabis Policy which sets rules for cannabis cultivation-related water diversion and use.
The water diversion and use requirements ensure that water diversions for cannabis cultivation do not affect instream flows needed for fish, to maintain aquatic habitat, and protect aquatic resources.
More information on the types of water diversion and use requirements can be found under the What Does the Cannabis Policy Require question.
Please note that Cannabis SIURs are not available in all watersheds. For example, if your Point of Diversion is on a stream that is fully appropriated (there is no longer water available for diversion and use) during the diversion season, water may not be available to issue new water rights. Likewise, state law prohibits surface water diversion for cannabis cultivation on wild and scenic rivers (see question below).
I have a riparian water right and divert directly from a stream. Is there anything else I need to do?
Yes, file for your Cannabis SIUR now. The Cannabis Policy prohibits dry season diversions for commercial cannabis cultivation. Riparian water rights are a special type of right that do not allow for storage. The Cannabis Policy prohibits surface water diversions for cannabis cultivation during specific times of the year, even if you have a riparian right that could be used for irrigation of other types of crops. Therefore, you need to obtain a Cannabis SIUR or other valid appropriative water right that allows you to divert and store water in the winter for irrigation in the dry season (April 1 through October 31 or later).
How much does a Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration cost?
A Cannabis SIUR filing fee is $750.00 at the time of registration, and an additional $750.00 fee each subsequent year. We accept payment by check, cashier’s check, money order, and electronic debit.
What time of year will I be allowed to divert water from surface water?
In accordance with the current version of the Cannabis Policy, commercial cannabis cultivators may be able to divert and store surface water between November 1 through March 31, but only if certain minimum streamflow criteria are met. Cultivators cannot divert between April 1 through October 31 (forbearance season) and must irrigate using stored water that was diverted outside of the forbearance season.
Can I get a Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registration anywhere in the state? Are there any limitations?
Yes, the Cannabis SIUR is available throughout the state. However, cannabis cultivators should be aware that they may not be eligible for a Cannabis SIUR or other appropriative (storage) water rights in the following situations:
- The Point of Diversion (POD) is proposed to be on the main stem of a Wild and Scenic River (California or Federal). However, you may be eligible if your POD is on a tributary to the Wild and Scenic River. If it is not possible to move the POD, then you need to assess whether an alternative water source is feasible.
- The proposed water source is on a year-round Fully Appropriated Stream (FAS), you will not be eligible for a Cannabis SIUR. Unlike a Wild and Scenic River, a FAS system often includes the main stem stream AND all its tributaries where hydraulic continuity exists. You will need to obtain a different water source to cultivate commercial cannabis.
I have a Small Domestic Use Registration (SDUR) on file with the State Water Resources Control Board. Can I use water from my SDUR to irrigate commercial cannabis?
No – SDURs may not be used to obtain a CalCannabis Cultivation license. SDURs are intended for human consumption and incidental irrigation not to exceed one-half acre in lawn, ornamental shrubbery, or gardens. Water diverted under a SDUR may not be used for irrigating a crop for barter, sale, or trade. If you have a residence on the property of your cannabis cultivation, you may apply for both a SDUR and a Cannabis SIUR.
I have a spring that I use to irrigate cannabis. What do I need to do?
- Most springs overflow, at some point during the year, into a channel that eventually flows off the property on which it is located. If your spring flows off your property at any time during the year (or you are uncertain), you need a water right and should file for a Cannabis SIUR through the Portal https://public2.waterboards.ca.gov/mt/sites/site?siteName=CGO.
- If your spring does not flow off your property at any time during any year and you divert less than 25 acre-feet per year, the spring may qualify as a fully contained spring. Fully contained springs do not flow off a person’s property or into a channel that flows off the property, including wet years or after periods of heavy rain. The Cannabis Policy allows cultivators to request an exemption, while applying for a Cannabis SIUR, from the forbearance period and certain flow requirements if the spring being used for cannabis cultivation meets a set of pre-determined conditions.
A spring is an area where there is concentrated discharge of groundwater that flows at the ground surface. A fully contained spring is a spring that does not flow off the cannabis cultivator’s property in the absence of diversion, including wet years, or after periods of heavy rain.
How common are fully contained springs?
Fully contained springs, as defined in the Cannabis Policy, are uncommon. State Water Board staff anticipate that most of the springs will not meet all the conditions necessary to be considered fully contained.
How do I know if I have a fully contained spring?
If the spring does not flow off your property in the absence of diversion, including wet years, or after periods of heavy rain, the spring may be considered fully contained. The determination of whether a spring is fully contained, and whether a cultivator may be exempt from certain flow conditions, is the responsibility of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board). If you feel like you may have a fully contained spring, you must obtain a Cannabis SIUR and input information regarding your spring. Staff will review the information submitted and determine whether or not the spring is fully contained.
How do I submit a Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request?
If you feel like you may have a fully contained spring, you must obtain a Cannabis SIUR and submit a Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request to the State Water Board for review. You can file for your Cannabis SIUR and submit your Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request through the Water Board’s Cannabis Cultivation Program Application Portal. Information on fully contained spring requirements and the minimum supporting evidence needed to document your fully contained spring can be found on the fully contained springs webpage. The State Water Board Deputy Director of Water Rights (Deputy Director) will approve or deny the Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request. The State Water Board will notify the cannabis cultivator of the approval or denial of the request. If approved, the cannabis cultivator can request the revocation of their Cannabis SIUR to avoid future annual fees.
What requirements apply to a fully contained spring?
Fully contained springs that have been approved by the Deputy Director are exempt from the Cannabis Policy’s Narrative Instream Flow Requirement 4 (Surface Water Dry Season Forbearance Period) and Requirement 5 (Surface Water Wet Season Diversion Period – Numeric Instream Flow Requirements). All groundwater Requirements still apply to fully contained springs.
See the excerpt of flow requirements from the Cannabis for more information.
My spring diversion is in a Fully Appropriated Stream system. What do I need to do?
Unfortunately, if your spring is in a year-round Fully Appropriated Stream (FAS) system, you will not be eligible for a Cannabis SIUR. The FAS system often includes the main stem stream AND all its tributaries where hydraulic continuity exists. If you are unable to obtain a Cannabis SIUR, you will be unable to divert water while your Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request is being reviewed. You can submit your Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request using the Cannabis Cultivation Program Portal.
If the FAS is not year-round, you may still be eligible for a Cannabis SIUR. If you are eligible you need to file for your Cannabis SIUR and submit your Fully Contained Spring Request. You cannot, however, divert water from the spring outside of the approved diversion period in your Cannabis SIUR while your Fully Contained Spring Exemption Request is being reviewed.
More information on FAS is available on the Fully Appropriated Stream webpage.
- State Water Board does not have permitting or reporting authority over groundwater in most cases, but there are some exceptions. You need to submit your well log (also known as well completion report) to CalCannabis as part of your cannabis cultivation application. If you do not have a well log, you may be able to obtain it by contacting the Department of Water Resources (DWR) or your county office responsible for issuing well drilling permits (usually Environmental Health office). If you cannot obtain your well log from DWR or county, you need to obtain a letter from DWR stating that no well log exists for your well.
Visit DWR’s webpage for more information on wells.
For additional information see CalCannabis’ Reference Guide.
- If your well extracts from a subterranean stream you may also need to file for a SIUR. Subterranean streams are not common. Subterranean streams are bodies of water that flow in the subsurface through known and definite channels. Subterranean streams are subject to Water Board permitting and reporting authority and treated like surface water. If you are unsure whether you need a SIUR for a groundwater well that may meet either of these conditions please contact the Cannabis SIUR Program staff.
- If you are subject to the Groundwater Recordation Program (that is, if you extract 10 acre-feet from a single well or more than 25 acre-feet total from multiple wells per year from a groundwater well in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, or Ventura Counties) you need to submit Form b4.
- All cannabis diversions are subject to California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Lake and Streambed Alteration (LSA) permitting authority. If CDFW finds that your groundwater well diversion is hydrologically connected to surface water and has the potential to impact surface flows, you may need to submit additional information to both CDFW and Water Boards. In general, the definition of hydrologic connectivity is broader than the definition of a subterranean stream.
More information on CDFW’s LSA Program can be found on their webpage.
- Rainwater or storm water runoff is legal to capture before it enters a channel, ditch, stream, lake or other water body. The term for rainwater runoff that has not yet entered a surface water body or channel is “sheet flow”. The Cannabis Policy supports rainwater harvesting practices that collect water without creating significant modifications to the drainage area. One example of a viable rainwater capture approach is to direct runoff from a building roof into a cistern or tank for later irrigation use.
- If sheet flow channelizes or causes erosion rills before entering your pond, you are diverting from a stream with an onstream dam.
- If sheet flow does not channelize before entering your pond OR you use a rooftop rainwater catchment system, you do not need to submit any forms to the State Water Board for your water diversion (but you still need to enroll in the Cannabis General Order). However, you will need to submit the total area of your rainwater catchment footprint and total storage capacity to CalCannabis. Since it is difficult to accurately assess channelization, you should consider hiring a professional engineer, geologist, or other qualified consultant to assist you.
For additional information see CalCannabis’ Reference Guide.
If you receive water through a connection to a water supplier you do not need to submit any documentation to the State Water Board, but you still need to disclose your water supply in your CalCannabis license application. The information about your water supplier that is required to be submitted to CalCannabis varies depending on the size of the supplier.
For additional information see CalCannabis’ Reference Guide.
Who is responsible for enforcing Cannabis Cultivation Policy, General Order, and Cannabis SIUR Program?
The State Water Board and Regional Water Boards have primary enforcement authority for the requirements established in the Cannabis Policy that are primarily implemented through the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and Cannabis SIUR Program. Like other environmental rules, they are considered to be self-implementing, so the responsibility to comply with the rules are on any individual or group who chooses to cultivate for commercial medical cannabis, commercial recreational cannabis, or personal medical cannabis. The Water Boards have made, and continue to make a concerted effort to reach out to all interested parties, including associations that represent cannabis cultivators in California, to educate them on the requirements in the Cannabis Policy, Cannabis Cultivation General Order, and water rights.
If I obtain and comply with all the Water Board regulations, will my crop be protected from eradication by local and state law enforcement officials?
The State Water Board’s focus is solely on implementation of the Cannabis Policy through the Cannabis Cultivation General Order and Cannabis SIUR Program. There are a number of other requirements for cannabis cultivation under the authority of the CDFA CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program, Bureau of Cannabis Control, and CDFW. The State Water Board does not have authority over operations conducted by local or state law enforcement.
What actions are the State Water Boards taking to address potential environmental impacts caused by illegal cannabis cultivation?
Since 2013, the State Water Board and the Regional Water Boards have worked closely with CDFW to address adverse environmental impacts from cannabis cultivation. Prior to the State Water Board developing and adopting the Cannabis Policy and Cannabis Cultivation General Order, both the North Coast and Central Valley Regional Water Boards adopted regulations that established rules for cannabis cultivation operations. Since establishing these regulations, the North Coast and Central Valley Regional Water Boards have conducted inspections and provided onsite guidance to reconcile issues like allegations of unpermitted water use, illegal grading, sediment discharges from roads and cultivation sites, overuse of nutrients and pesticides, as well as damage to aquatic habitat and fish-spawning areas. In some cases, these incidents have resulted in enforcement actions that included fines and citations. These efforts are ongoing in these two regional areas and have expanded to the other Regional Water Board areas throughout the state.
What will enforcement look like for illegal cultivators?
The Water Board will be conducting enforcement inspections and engaging in proactive enforcement against illegal cultivators. Enforcement efforts will be primarily, but not exclusively, focused on high priority watersheds. Priority watersheds are identified collaboratively with CDFW and local agencies and consider a number of factors including the presence of impaired water bodies, critical habitat or sensitive species. The goal of this proactive enforcement is to protect water quality and supply from adverse impacts due to cultivation and to ensure that illegal cultivators are not gaining a competitive advantage over cultivators that are complying with the Water Boards Cannabis Program requirements.
Will there be inspections?
Yes, there will be inspections. The Water Boards will conduct enforcement inspection and compliance inspections. Compliance inspections will be conducted on sites that are enrolled in the Water Boards Cannabis Program to ensure compliance and to help educate cannabis cultivators on the Cannabis Policy requirements, identify any water quality or water right issues on their site, and work with the cannabis cultivators to develop a plan to fix any issues identified and come into compliance with the requirements of the Cannabis Policy. Inspections help educate cannabis cultivators, provide guidance, and ensure that their operations are conducted in an environmentally friendly manner and are not causing any negative impacts to fish, aquatic habitat, and water quality. Inspections may lead to enforcement actions in certain circumstances, such as where there is egregious non-compliance with the Cannabis Program or if the adverse impacts from the cultivation are particularly significant.
I know of other cannabis cultivators that are not following the rules. What should I do? Who do I contact?
The State Water Board Office of Enforcement and the CDFW will act on reports of illegal cannabis cultivation or operations that are not following requirements under the Cannabis Policy, Cannabis Cultivation General Order, or water right laws. You may submit an online complaint on CalEPA’s Environmental Complaint System webpage. You may also contact the State Water Board Division of Water Rights (916-341-5300), your local Regional Water Board, local CDFW office, or CDFA (1-833-WED-TIP) to submit a complaint.
What happens to if someone does not get a permit or follow the rules? Are there criminal and/or civil liabilities?
Those individuals or groups who choose to not enroll or appear to be conducting illegal cannabis cultivation activities will be the focus of state and local law enforcement and environmental regulators.
Can the Water Boards issue permits associated with cannabis cultivation in areas that ban or restrict cannabis cultivation?
Yes, the Water Boards may issue permits under some circumstances. Water Board permits do not authorize cultivation, so cultivation would still be prohibited in banned or restricted areas even if a prospective cultivator obtained a Water Boards permit. Cultivators must obtain and comply with all required local and state permits prior to beginning cultivation, or before continuing to cultivate.
The Water Boards established two statewide regulatory programs/permits for cannabis cultivation activities: (1) waste discharge requirements (WDR)/waiver, and (2) small irrigation use registration (SIUR) water right. The intent and focus of the Water Boards cannabis cultivation regulatory programs/permits is to protect water quality and beneficial uses of water from impacts associated with cannabis cultivation related activities. To effectively prevent impacts from cultivation related activities, cultivators should obtain Water Board permits as early in the site development and licensing process as possible, and must obtain coverage under Water Board permits prior to developing property for cultivation or diverting water for use.
Anyone cultivating without all applicable permits is at risk of criminal prosecution for illegal cultivation activities from law enforcement agencies and/or local regulatory agency enforcement.
When might the Water Boards issue permits before local authorization is obtained?
It is anticipated that some cannabis cultivators may apply for coverage under the Water Boards cannabis regulatory programs without first complying with local cultivation laws for a number of reasons including; (1) to conduct site development activities in anticipation of receiving local and state authorization, (2) because they are an existing cultivation site in the process of obtaining all the necessary local permits, or (3) in anticipation of a local jurisdiction adopting a permissive cultivation ordinance.
The Water Boards developed an automated online application portal for cultivators to apply for their Water Board issued cannabis cultivation permits (WDR, waiver, SIUR). The online portal focuses on the details of the cannabis cultivation activities and requires the cultivator to agree to comply with the conditions of the Water Boards cannabis cultivation programs (WDR, waiver, SIUR). Cultivators are required to certify as part of submitting their application that their cannabis cultivation activities comply with all applicable state, city, county, and local laws, regulations, ordinances, permits, and license requirements.
The Water Boards automated permitting process, however, does not automatically screen for whether cannabis cultivation is permitted in a specific location due to a variety of factors, including:
- Information on which counties or cities allow cannabis cultivation is dynamic, as local jurisdictions (cities, counties) establish and modify rules for this newly regulated industry.
- Interpretation of local land use zoning requirements is complex and the Water Boards will defer to local jurisdictions to interpret their own requirements including the location, size and type of cultivation allowed.
- The need to encourage a significant number of cultivation sites to obtain Water Board permits and comply with permit conditions that are protective of the environment as early in the licensing process as possible.
Accordingly, an applicant can enroll using the Water Boards’ automated enrollment system and obtain cannabis cultivation permits through a self-certification process early in the permitting process and in anticipation of receiving additional local and state authorization.
What will Water Boards do if they become aware of, or receive notice that a cultivator: (1) has been denied local or state cultivation permits; or (2) is in a banned area?
As stated above, there are a number of reasons why a potential cultivator might apply for a Water Boards permit in an area where current local laws prohibit commercial cannabis cultivation. The Water Boards’ permits are intended to protect water quality and supply; obtaining a Water Board permit prior to the start of cultivation can be helpful way to institute necessary water quality protection measures. A permit from the Water Boards, however, does not authorize cultivation; cultivation in banned areas is still prohibited, even with a permit from the Water Boards.
Information concerning enrollment in the Water Boards’ permit programs is public information. If the Water Boards become aware of, or are informed by another agency that an enrollee has begun cultivation after the enrollee has been denied a local or state license to cultivate, or that the location is in a banned area, then the Water Boards may terminate permit coverage without a refund. If the enrolled site has been developed or cultivated, then the Water Boards may require the preparation and submittal of a site closure report, and a site visit prior to terminating coverage. Failure to comply with site closure/permit termination requirements will result in enforcement action.
If I go through all the hoops and operate consistent with California law, will the state protect me from the Federal government?
No. The State Water Board is not responsible for representing enrollees in the Cannabis Cultivation General Order should the federal government invoke its authority relative to the legality of cannabis.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Water Board) “Cannabis Cultivation Policy – Principles and Guidelines for Cannabis Cultivation” (Cannabis Policy), adopted on October 17, 2017, and updated on February 5, 2019, establishes requirements for cannabis cultivation activities to protect water quality and instream flows. The Cannabis Policy specifically addresses Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), which formally established the medical cannabis industry, and Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), which legalized recreational cultivation, possession, and use of limited amounts of cannabis by adults over 21 years of age. This statewide Cannabis Policy specifies that all cannabis cultivation activities must be conducted in such a way that they pose no threat to water quality or water supplies. The requirements established by the Cannabis Policy are incorporated into and implemented through the following programs:
- California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program;
- State Water Board and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (collectively, Water Boards) General Waste Discharge Requirements and Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges of Waste Associated with Cannabis Cultivation Activities (Cannabis Cultivation General Order) or any Waste Discharge Requirements addressing cannabis cultivation activities adopted by a Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board);
- Water Boards General Water Quality Certification for Cannabis Cultivation Activities (Cannabis Cultivation General Water Quality Certificate);
- State Water Board’s Cannabis Small Irrigation Use Registrations (Cannabis SIUR); and
- State Water Board’s Water Rights Permitting and Licensing.
More information on the State Water Board’s cannabis cultivation regulatory programs can be found by visiting the Cannabis Cultivation homepage.
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