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Cannabis Cultivation Regulatory and Enforcement Unit

Environmental Harm from Cannabis Cultivation

The Water Boards are concerned with the diversion and use of surface water and waste discharges that could harm the waters of the State. The following activities and environmental impacts are associated with cannabis cultivation:
  • Water Supply Issues: Illegal diversions and diverting a stream that harms beneficial uses and/or senior water rights holders.
  • Erosion and Sediment: Poorly maintained and constructed roads and excavation/development of cultivation areas are a major source of sediment pollution from soil erosion. Significant rain events can cause mass sedimentation and large-scale erosion. Sediment increases negative impacts to endangered fish species (salmonids) that cannot tolerate high water levels of suspended solids.
  • Wetland and Riparian Impacts: Draining a wetland, placing fill or excavating water-logged soils from a wetland; removing vegetation from the riparian corridor of a stream; and removing the tree canopy that provides shade to maintain the stream's temperature.
  • Soil Additives: Potting soil and mulch, amendments, fertilizers, and pesticides are stored improperly (outdoors and directly on the ground) or improperly applied, mobilized by runoff and discharged into surface waters.
  • Housekeeping, Trash, and Human Domestic Waste: Large scale cannabis cultivation operations typically generate household garbage, fuel and chemical containers, and other hazardous waste often left at abandoned sites. Human waste that is not properly collected and/or treated can contaminate nearby water supplies with bacteria and other pathogens.
  • Unpermitted Timber Conversion: Cannabis cultivators often do their own clear cutting to develop an open space for their grow sites without obtaining the appropriate permits or considering the environmental impacts. This results in deforestation and increased erosion due to loss of vegetative cover. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air.
  Discharge of waste to waters of the State without a permit and/or any diversion and use of water without an appropriate water right may be subject to enforcement and possible penalties.


The Water Boards are developing a regulatory program to protect waters of the State from harmful activities from cannabis cultivation. The program will prohibit waste discharges from agricultural practices, land clearing and grading activities in rural areas and forests. Permits will cover medical marijuana (Proposition 215) grown on private land. Cannabis cultivation on public lands is illegal and may be subject to criminal prosecution. A permit obtained from the Water Boards does not approve or endorse cannabis cultivation.


In October 2015, the Governor signed into law three bills passed by Legislature (Assembly Bills 243 and 266, and Senate Bill 643) that create a licensing and regulatory framework for medical marijuana, collectively referred to as the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).


All cash payments must be submitted directly to the State Water Resources Control Board, not the Regional Water Board. The State Water Board prefers that payments be made by check or money order. Money orders are available in large denominations (up to $1,000) at many retail outlets and post offices across California, and, if used, will expedite the enrollment process. The State Water Board may be able to accept cash payments at its downtown Sacramento location. Cash payments, however, will require additional time and an appointment with the State Water Board's Sacramento office. A delay in enrollment due to the need for a cash payment is not an excuse for non-compliance with applicable enrollment requirements.

For an appointment, please call: (916) 341-5021

You may send payments to:
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 1888
Sacramento, CA. 95812-1888

Best Management Practices for Growers

Program Development

Information for Cannabis Industry


State Water Resources Control Board
Office of Enforcement
Phone: (916) 341-5272
Central Valley Regional Water Quality
Control Board - Redding
Phone: (530) 224-4845
North Coast Regional Water Quality
Control Board
Phone: (707) 576-2350

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing under the California Department and Food and Agriculture is responsible for cannabis cultivation licensing:
(916) 263-0801
Email: CalCannabis@cdfa.ca.gov

The Bureau of Cannabis Control is responsible for licensing retailers, distributors, distributors, testing labs, and microbusinesses:
P.O. Box 138200
Sacramento, CA 95813-8200
(800) 952-5210
Email: bmmr@dca.ca.gov

The California Water Boards are coordinating with these agencies to ensure that water quality and water supply issues from cannabis cultivation and its related activities are addressed.