Three cannabis cultivators in Humboldt County are facing a $209,687 fine in connection with sediment discharged into tributaries of the Mad River that posed a risk to water quality and aquatic life, according to a formal complaint signed last week by staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Szagora LLC, Toshko Toshkoff and Rudy Chacon (the “cultivators”) commercially cultivated cannabis on a 100-acre property along the Humboldt-Trinity County line between the towns of Dinsmore and Mad River. The complaint alleges the cultivators failed to obtain a permit to legally cultivate cannabis and did not respond to an enforcement order requiring them to maintain an access road on their property consistent with industry standards designed to protect water quality and beneficial uses.
The road on the property has steep sections that are hydrologically connected to surface waters. North Coast Water Board staff determined the road is undersized, misaligned and contains failed stream crossings that threaten to discharge sediment to the Mad River less than a quarter mile east of the property.
“By failing to obtain a required permit, follow industry standards and adequately respond to an enforcement order, the unlicensed cultivators gained an unfair advantage over legal cultivators,” said Claudia E. Villacorta, assistant executive officer. “But more importantly, they put a waterway at risk.”
Sediment delivery to waterways negatively impacts the migration, spawning, reproduction and early development of cold-water fish. Excess sediment delivery to streams can smother aquatic animals and habitats; alter or obstruct flows resulting in flooding; and reduce water clarity, which makes it difficult for organisms to breathe, find food and refuge, and reproduce. The discharge of sediment in the Mad River watershed is especially problematic because it is listed as an impaired water body under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act due to elevated sedimentation/siltation and turbidity.
A public hearing to consider the complaint and vote on whether to approve the fine is scheduled for Aug. 4-5 before the North Coast Water Board.
A copy of the administrative complaint is available for review on the North Coast Water Board’s website.