How much water does a cannabis operation use?

How much water does a cannabis operation use? It’s a straightforward question but getting at the answer isn’t. That would require data, and data for a substance that is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government is often hard to come by.

“If you do some research, there's usually one statistic that is cited, and it's from basically a hypothetical model that was based on an illicit market outdoor production scenario. It quotes a rate of 6 gallons per plant per day,” said Derek Smith, executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute (RII), a nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency for cannabis growers.

Smith said that often-cited figure is unequivocally high. And how does he know that? Because in April 2020, the RII formed the Water Working Group, made up of experts from multiple fields, to gain a better understanding of cannabis water use and how geographies and cultivation methods impact usage rates. The experts included cultivators, researchers, utility officials and members of regulatory agencies.

The group, along with partners New Frontier Data and the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center, set out to create the Cannabis Water Report, a document that will establish a scientific understanding of how, and how much, water is used for cannabis cultivation.


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