A Humboldt County Superior Court judge has approved a settlement requiring a cannabis cultivator to pay a fine of $1.75 million for environmental violations. The violations involve the building and diversion of water from illegal onstream reservoirs without obtaining the necessary permits from the California Water Boards and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
This settlement comes after an extensive investigation and addresses violations committed by Joshua Sweet and his companies, The Hills LLC and Shadow Light Ranch LLC. The violations include the destruction of wetland habitat and stream channels, the conversion of oak woodland for cannabis cultivation, and the failure to adhere to permitting requirements established by the State Water Resources Control Board, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, and CDFW.
As part of the settlement, if Joshua Sweet completes the restoration of the damaged property by 2026, $1 million of the penalty will be suspended. The restoration work involves removing three unauthorized reservoirs and rehabilitating stream channels and damaged wetlands.
“It is critical for all cannabis cultivators to be environmentally responsible and protect California’s water supply and water quality,” said Taro Murano, program manager for the State Water Board’s Division of Water Rights cannabis enforcement section. “Sweet chose to operate his business while ignoring regulations designed to protect the environment. He must now remediate the environmental damage he caused and pay a significant penalty. No one should get a business advantage by ignoring the law and harming the environment.”
According to the terms of the settlement, Joshua Sweet must make payments totaling $500,000 to the Division of Water Rights, $175,000 to the North Coast Water Board, and $75,000 to CDFW over a five-year period. In addition to the financial penalties, Sweet is required to obtain all necessary permits, cease unauthorized water diversions and usage, restrict future property development, and adhere to all applicable regulations.
“This case represents years of hard work by dedicated staff to remediate damage to streambed channels, wetland habitat and oak woodlands,” said Nathaniel Arnold, acting chief of law enforcement for CDFW. “The settlement also speaks volumes to the egregious nature of this case and should send a strong message to those working outside of state regulations to cultivate cannabis. Our natural resources deserve to be respected.”