California marijuana grower fined nearly $2 million for environmental violations

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A marijuana grower in Northern California agreed to pay $1.7 million in penalties to various state agencies for environmental violations.

The settlement, approved by a Humboldt County Superior Court judge, levied record penalties against Joshua Sweet and his affiliated companies, The Hills and Shadow Light Ranch, for building and diverting water from illegal onstream reservoirs without obtaining permits from the California Water Boards and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Sweet must pay $500,000 to the Division of Water Rights, $175,000 to the North Coast Water Board and $75,000 to the CDFW over five years.

He is also required to obtain all necessary permits, cease unauthorized water diversions and use, restrict future property development and comply with all applicable regulations.

The $500,000 penalty due to the Division of Water Rights is a state record for a water-rights violation, CalMatters reported.

Under terms of the settlement, $1 million of the penalties could be revoked if Sweet completes restoration of the damaged property by 2026.

That work includes removing three unauthorized reservoirs, rehabilitating stream channels and restoring damaged wetlands.

A lawsuit alleges that Sweet’s companies:

  • Destroyed wetland habitat and stream channels.
  • Converted oak woodland to grow cannabis.
  • Failed to work with the state Water Resources Control Board, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and CDFW to secure permit requirements.