Promoting Conservation in the Cannabis Sector


Several RCDs have been subcontracted by CARCD to carry out watershed conservation work in cannabis cultivation, including self-assessments, creating local partnerships, creating resources for growers, and developing fee-for-service programs.

Cannabis is a newly legal agricultural sector in California that is rapidly evolving. It is a resource-intensive crop that can severely impact surrounding ecosystems if growers do not follow best management practices. With support from the Resources Legacy Fund, CARCD is assisting several Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) with the exploration and development of fee-for-service programs to engage with the cannabis industry and promote best management practices that can protect watershed health.

One barrier for sustainable cannabis cultivation is the legal ambiguity of the crop. Growers cite expensive and unreliable consultation services as a major issue. There are few public resources for technical assistance because it is unavailable from sources that receive federal funding. As local public agencies, RCDs are in a unique position to provide technical assistance and address cannabis-related resource challenges in their communities. At the same time, CARCD is working with legal experts to ensure the legal compliance and safety of RCDs.

Currently, we are working with eight RCDs where cannabis cultivation is legal. Those districts are taking steps to assess whether a fee-for-service technical assistance program is something that is desired by their constituents.

Related activities performed by the RCDs have included:

  • Targeted outreach to cannabis growers, operators, and leaders
  • RCD-hosted workshops with a focus on erosion, water, fire prevention, soil health – identified by district’s ecological need
  • One-on-one outreach between local RCD and cannabis producers, including technical site visits and conservation planning by four RCDs
  • On-site evaluations using Upper Salinas-Las Tablas RCD’s “Growing Responsible and Socially Sustainable Cannabis” (GRASS-C) sustainability self-assessment
  • Internal self-assessment of capacity and needs by four RCDs
  • Participation in workshops (organized by CARCD and partners) for RCD cannabis knowledge enhancement
  • Distribution of GRASS-C and Mendocino County RCD’s “Watershed Best Management Practices for Cannabis Growers” electronically and in print to local growers and stakeholders.

The Upper Salinas-Las Tablas RCD, Coastal San Luis RCD and Cachuma RCD recently hosted a free informative workshop in August 2019 discussing the latest developments in cannabis licensing, regulations and sustainability efforts. The RCDs discussed their services and gave an overview of the GRASS-C third party verification program. Their partners, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department and the California Growers Association, also presented about available resources.

As the legal cannabis industry continues to develop, many RCDs are working to adapt their efforts to provide science-based best management practices for growers, just as they would with any other specialty crop in California.

Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that only eight RCDs are located where cannabis cultivation is legal. There are more than eight counties where cannabis cultivation is legal, and CARCD is currently working with eight RCDs where cannabis cultivation is legal.