Water use and waste violations issued to illegal marijuana grow property owners

File - Police seized more than 8,700 plants from a suspected illegal grow operation west of Junction City.
File - Police seized more than 8,700 plants from a suspected illegal grow operation west of Junction City.

State and county officials have issued violation notices to property owners at the large-scale illegal marijuana operation raided west of Junction City, which was pumping water from a pond, using electricity and placing buildings without permits.

Lane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Thomas Speldrich said Monday the operation was “one of the largest” marijuana farm raids the department has had. He thinks there are more in the area people are not yet aware of.

“As these operations are found and get some publicity, certainly I think that folks here are going to become more aware that we do have a problem in our county. It just maybe has not been highlighted yet.”

The farm was raided Aug. 24 on High Pass Road, on private property between Smyth Road and Territorial Highway. Police estimated the farm to have around 32 greenhouses, and close to 9,000 marijuana plants were seized.

The Sheriff’s Office said the primary operator was Julian Marin, a 27-year-old who was cited with illegal marijuana manufacturing, but not arrested. Several migrant workers believed to be trafficked were also at the site living in “deplorable” conditions, Speldrich said. The operation was funded by an organized crime group in Mexico, according to Speldrich.

Police are still investigating whether the property owners will be given any criminal charges or fines, Speldrich said. The operation appeared to have been there since the start of the summer growing season, he added.

Reached by phone Thursday, a property owner who declined to provide a name said they were not aware it would be an illegal operation before leasing the area to the growers.

Water use and waste violations

On the day of the raid, Lane and Linn counties' Watermaster Lanaya Blakely responded a few hours after police issued the property owners a violation notice for the operation, which was pumping from a pond without a permit.

The notice means the landlords could be fined if there is any more illegal water use.

“That's the first step toward potentially assessing fines in the future,” she said.

Help from state:Oregon Legislature approves millions for relief for a state awash in illegal pot farms

Blakely’s office is looking at how much water was taken, but she said it would be a “very rough estimate” because there was no measurement device at the intake. Blakely said she did not see lines going to other properties from the pond.

The pond had a water use permit for a neighboring property, according to Mike McCord, the Northwest regional manager of the state’s Water Resources Department. Watermasters can issue a notice to the person running the operation within five days after a raid, but in this case, the operator was not reached in time or present when Blakely arrived, McCord said.

There was also a well on the property connected to the grow, but it was not used yet, McCord said.

Lane County’s code compliance division issued a notice for six violations on Aug. 29 to the property owners, which include:

  • Solid waste accumulation

  • Electrical and plumbing work without building approvals

  • Greenhouses placed without land use or building approvals

  • More than the allowed number of campsites in an exclusive farm use zone

  • Development of a floodplain area without land use approval

  • Commercial marijuana production without approval

The notice requires owners to remove the waste and deal with other violations by Sept. 30, and they could receive fines up to $2,500 per day if they don’t comply.

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Unclear if fertilizers hurt environment

One aspect of the grow that hasn't been determined is whether there were any substantial environmental impacts from fertilizers or herbicides at the site.

Representatives for Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture said they were not involved in the Junction City site response and did not investigate whether fertilizers or herbicides were used, which could have damaged the local waterways.

The chemicals are often used in large quantities at large-scale marijuana grows and can be devastating to water sources and wildlife in the form of runoff.

The grow near Junction City was in the Long Tom River watershed, near Bear Creek which leads into the Long Tom.

Jed Kaul, a fish biologist for the Long Tom Watershed Council, said he was concerned about the possibility of polluted runoff and of how it could affect the water levels.

"It's really frustrating; there's a lot of agriculture in the Long Tom, and everybody follows the rules and only uses the water they're supposed to, and only uses pesticides that are permitted, and then these people are trying to do it black market," Kaul said Friday.

Kaul noted he had been aware of the illegal grow for a few months and that a neighboring property is reserved for wetland protection and enhancement.

The environmental effects and over-use of water have also been observed by police.

In southern Oregon, where growing conditions are better and large-scale grows are more common, sheriff’s offices told The Register-Guard they have seen many cases where water sources are ruined and damage the local vegetation and wildlife.

'Blatant theft': Illegal pot farms in Oregon taking drought-stricken state's scarce water

"The fertilizers can really destroy those water sources," said Aaron Lewis, a public information officer for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

“The problem with it is they have to use a lot of fertilizer for these plants to flower in a relatively quick timeframe, so there's a lot of runoff," he said. “That's what we've noticed.”

In some cases an uninvolved property owner will have their water sucked dry by the illegal grows, since the wells are not designed to support that amount of water usage.

“We've had a lot of citizen complaints in neighboring areas on some of these grows that their wells are losing flow,” Lewis said.

Louis Krauss covers breaking news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at lkrauss@registerguard.com, and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Water use and waste violations issued to illegal marijuana grow property