MCSO to work with Fish and Wildlife targeting illegal water diversions

Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

Mendocino County has allocated $75,000 in federal funding to pay overtime expenses for California Department of Fish and Wildlife employees during the summer growing season.

For the next three years, DFW personnel will be working with the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at least eight months out of the year. Hopefully, this collaboration will enable MCSO personnel to better investigate environmental offenders in the future.

The money comes from the federal government's Domestic Cannabis Eradication\Suppression Program (DCE/SP). It would typically go to fund MCSO personnel expenses, but despite how that money will be paid to state employees -- Allman calls it money well spent for on-the-job training. He also says that DFW personnel have been useful experts when building cases that involve environmental damage.

"In July of 2012, we worked with Fish and Wildlife to get a fulltime warden in our marijuana unit for the purpose of not only investigating these crimes, but training our people as to what to look for. It's not just as simple as finding that three-inch pipe in the river," Allman says. "Of course certainly we find those, and we investigate them and do everything we can to get the district attorney to prosecute those. But there's other things involved. Silt is a big deal. We're doing everything we can to have the salmon and steelhead return to our rivers, and silt can decimate fingerlings as well as adult fish."

Environmental complications that arise from illegal water diversions and high concentrations of fertilizer or other chemicals in the watershed have become an increasing subject of public scrutiny in recent years. The number of diversions in local rivers dramatically exceeds the number of parcels with legitimate water rights, but the scope of the problem currently exceeds the enforcement capability of local agencies. Allman hopes to change that over the next three years.

"What we want to do is make sure that they understand the right way to do it. We're not going to show them how to grow marijuana," Allman says, "but we're certainly going after them if we see something from the air where there's environmental problems. We're going to get involved in that -- even if there's less than 25 plants. If there's environmental degradation or illegal water theft, that has no bearing on our investigation."

The item was placed on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisor's agenda on January 22nd. It was initially on the consent calendar, but 3rd District Supervisor Johnny Pinches singled it out for more thorough debate. In the end, Pinches voted in favor of Allman's request.