Humboldt County cannabis grower Joshua Sweet has agreed to a hefty $750,000 settlement with state officials for significant water rights violations. The charges against Sweet and his companies, Shadow Light Ranch, LLC and The Hills, LLC, highlight years of “egregious” environmental damage in the region, marking a record penalty for such an offense in California.
Sweet’s operations in the Emerald Triangle were found to have severely impacted local ecosystems, including wetlands and stream channels, through the unpermitted development of ponds and alteration of natural landscapes to cultivate cannabis. This settlement not only imposes a $500,000 penalty but also mandates extensive remediation work. Failure to complete these restorative efforts could trigger an additional $1 million fine.
Sweet, a licensed cannabis cultivator, expressed his dismay over the settlement’s terms, fearing the financial burden could strip him of his possessions. He criticized the disproportionate nature of the fines, typically reserved for major corporations, being levied against a small-scale grower like himself.
The violations centered around unauthorized water diversions to support cannabis cultivation, significantly affecting the Bear Canyon Creek Watershed and the South Fork Eel River, vital habitats for threatened salmon species. The remediation plan includes the removal of unpermitted ponds and restoration of natural waterways to mitigate the damage caused.
State officials underscored the necessity of formal enforcement after years of non-compliance and resistance from Sweet to engage in cooperative restoration efforts. The case highlights the critical balance between California’s burgeoning cannabis industry and the preservation of its natural resources.