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Watershed Enforcement Program Gears Up For 2021
watershed enforce
A Prop 64 funded program protects fish and wildlife habitat statewide; the watershed enforcement effort is getting underway for 2021. CDFW Photo

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in conjunction with its state and county partners, are preparing for the 2021 cannabis enforcement season.

As authorized by Fish & Game Code section 12029, CDFW, in coordination with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the state licensing authority, established a watershed enforcement program to address environmental violations associated with unlicensed cannabis cultivation.

The environmental impacts associated with illegal cannabis cultivation can have a detrimental effect on fish and wildlife and their habitats, which are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people.

“CDFW fully supports the regulated cannabis market and those taking steps to be compliant,” said Jeremy Valverde, CDFW’s Cannabis Program Director. “CDFW’s permitting process is designed to reduce environmental impacts, which is more critical than ever, given the drought-like conditions throughout the state.”

County approval and an active state license are required prior to planting, growing, harvesting, drying, curing, grading or trimming of cannabis. An applicant that may have received local approval but has not received an active license from the state licensing authority is not authorized to begin cultivation.

“Now in our fourth year of legalization amid drought conditions, CDFW and our allied agency partners find our mission more urgent than ever,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “No one should be engaging in commercial cannabis cultivation and associated construction activities unless they have a state license, otherwise they may face enforcement actions.”

This year, the multiagency task force is focusing on priority watersheds and areas with sensitive habitat and/or threatened or endangered species. Local partners are also playing a pivotal role in ensuring the success of these objectives.

In Humboldt County, for example, CDFW is closely coordinating with the state licensing authority, State and Regional Water Boards, Humboldt County Planning and Building Department, and Sheriff’s Office to address illegal grows and unpermitted construction activity, all of which can have detrimental impacts to the environment.

“A county permit alone does not allow a cultivator to initiate growing commercial cannabis,” said Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal. “A state license is also required, otherwise one is subject to enforcement by the Sheriff’s Office and its state agency partners. Protecting Humboldt County’s fish and wildlife resources from unregulated cannabis cultivation is a priority for all of us, and the drought makes our work all the more vital.”

For more information about current regulatory requirements, interested parties can view presentations from a recent online permitting workshop at

“We will continue to assist cultivators who want to comply with regulatory requirements, while focusing our enforcement efforts on illegal cultivation activity,” said Yvonne West, Director, Office of Enforcement for the State Water Resources Control Board. “With current drought conditions exacerbating the adverse impacts that can result from unregulated cultivation, the State Water Boards will utilize all available resources and authority to address those impacts.“

To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, visit or email To report environmental crimes, such as water diversions, pollution and poaching, call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).

View more details on fines, fees and administrative penalties from the state licensing authority, CDFW and SWRCB.