SAN DIEGO – While revealing 88,000 marijuana plants were seized in San Diego County in 2015, federal agents warned that the illegal operations used an estimated 72 million gallons of stolen water to cultivate their crop.
With just three weeks left in the year, marijuana eradication efforts in the San Diego area in 2015 have netted more than 88,000 marijuana plants seized at nearly 100 cultivation locations, officials announced Thursday.
Over the same period, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Narcotics Task Force and its partner agencies removed roughly 52,400 cannabis plants from public lands, shut down 34 hash-oil labs, confiscated trafficker assets valued at about $464,000 and arrested 115 suspects, the DEA reported.
The raided cultivation sites -- 60 of them outdoors and 38 inside structures -- posed "a significant threat to public safety,'' said William Sherman, special agent in charge of the San Diego DEA field office.
The illicit operations also were a significant drain on one of the region's most vital resources, Sherman said.
"All grows seized on public lands and most on private property involve theft of water and diversion of natural sources of water,'' he said. "During this time of drought, San Diegans should be concerned that our water is being stolen for a criminal enterprise.''
Officials estimate that it takes roughly 450 gallons of water to bring a single indoor cannabis plant to harvest and twice that amount for one grown outdoors. Based on those numbers, the marijuana seized locally this year used up some 72 million gallons of water, according to the DEA.
That quantity is enough to serve the needs of 440 average families for 12 months, said Gary Arant, general manager of the Valley Center Municipal Water District.
"Had these marijuana plants been seized from our district, at our current rates for water and pumping, (the theft) would represent $420,000 in lost water and pumping revenue, which (would have) to be made up by our other customers,'' Arant said.
The largest sting took place this summer when 13,000 plants were seized in the Cleveland National Forest on Palomar Mountain. Water stolen from a nearby natural spring was used in this operation.