Suspicions about unlawful hemp irrigation in Southwest Oregon proved to be well-founded after an audit uncovered violations at one-third of the grow sites visited.
Officials from the state’s Water Resources Department reviewed 187 hemp farms in the region last year and determined nearly 33% ran afoul of water laws. “There is a large part of this that’s education and outreach — folks just didn’t know,” said Jake Johnstone, OWRD’s southwest region manager, during a Feb. 18 meeting of the state’s Water Resources Commission.
Most of the violations — 46 out of 61 — related to hemp farmers who irrigated with well water despite lacking water rights, including some who had valid surface water rights. Domestic usage of well water is allowed without a water rights permit in Oregon, but not commercial irrigation.
More than one-third of the violations identified by the agency resulted in enforcement action, such as having to install water measurement devices on their wells, Johnstone said.
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