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News: 03/15/2019

SVCAC worried about water for cannabis project

The Sonoma Valley Citizen’s Advisory Commission (SVCAC) expressed concern about water usage at a proposed cannabis cultivation site high up Cavedale Road.

On Feb. 27, the SVCAC reviewed a use permit application from Doug Gardner for 45,560 square feet of cultivation (1,216 plants) on a large ranch his family has owned and farmed since 1979.

Three of the family’s 50 acres, located at 4600 Cavedale Road, would be used for the cultivation, surrounded by fencing and motion sensors for security.

Gardner told the SVCAC panel that his goal is to grow cannabis with high Cannabidiol (CDB), a non-intoxicating extract from the cannabis plant often used to address a number of medical issues including epilepsy and its associated seizures. Gardner himself suffers from epilepsy, which has prompted his interest in developing CDB oils for other medicinal users.

At the end of cultivation season, harvested cannabis would be processed off site. Gardner is hoping that site will be nearby SPARC at the bottom of Trinity Road, which is working with the county to get approvals for processing.

While SVCAC commissioners were supportive of Gardner’s goals, many were worried about the amount of water that would be needed to take care of over 1,200 cannabis plants.

The Gardner property is supplied by what Doug Gardner said is a “unique” water system. Water is provided by two springs on the property. The whole system is gravity flow, and there is no well on the property, and Gardner said he doesn’t intend to put one in. There is also a pond on site.

Currently, water is used for an acre of fruit trees, plus vegetable gardens and landscaping. Gardner said that he would give up watering some of the other crops to use for cannabis instead, and didn’t think his grow would use any more water than in a typical year.

A cannabis plant can take six gallons of water a day depending on the time of year.

A number of SVCAC commissioners expressed reservations about not having enough water data in front of them to properly evaluate the project, especially since the property is adjacent to the headwaters of Hooker Creek.

“It seems to me that even with the springs, you’re taking a lot of water out of the Hooker Creek watershed, and that’s bothersome to me,” said SVCAC Commissioner Tom Martin.

“There are a lot of unknowns here regarding water usage,” echoed SVCAC Chairman Ryan Lely.

Eventually, the SVCAC recommended by a vote of 5-2 to not approve the project based on the fact that they required more water usage information. They recommended that the project’s water usage be looked at by the Sonoma Valley Sustainable Groundwater Agency, a body formed in 2017 in charge of developing and implementing a sustainability plan for the Sonoma Valley Basin’s groundwater over the next 20 years.

The use permit application will eventually be heard by the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Gardner said he appreciated the chance to speak at the SVCAC meeting but was disappointed the commission didn’t approve his family’s operation. He said the concern over water use at the cultivation site, “is understandable considering the unique spring water sources which have provided potable water for the whole 50-acre property since my family arrived in 1979.”

“We will be using the same amount of water we have over the last 40 years, but rather than focus on our orchards and fruit trees, we will focus on cannabis cultivation. I hope that in review of the strong water source and large pond on site, the zoning board will approve the cannabis cultivation application.”

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