This map shows California's Watersheds as outlined by California Environmental Resources Evaluation System. Image found
California's Watersheds as outlined by California Environmental Resources Evaluation System. Notice it's similar in shape to the Bioregions map. Image found here:

The cannabis community is buzzing with the idea of legitimacy and compliancy in what seems like a full-court press to come out of the woods, take control of environmental impacts, and create thriving businesses.

But what being “compliant” truly means is still evolving. Compliancy can seem nebulous between environmental regulations, building codes, business models and the judicial process. What we do know is this: The watershed is a very sensitive environment that provides us with many resources for cultivation, most of which are finite because we can use them at a greater rate than nature can replenish them. To ensure the long-term sustainability of our watersheds and culture, we must design and implement systems that not only meet regulatory thresholds and reduce our demand on these resources, but also regenerate the legacy of our impacts.

The path to sustainable cannabis is this: Operate within an adaptive watershed model through the design and implementation of systems that are based on the actual site’s elements. Permaculture (a term derived from ‘permanent-agriculture’ by Australian Bill Mollison) is based on an initial process – protracted and thoughtful objective observation. Therefore, conducting an initial site assessment sets the baseline for all future permitting and design. Goals and parameters can be set for sustainable and regenerative systems after identifying:

  • Influencing and limiting factors,
  • On-site resources, and
  • How water interacts with the environment.

In this way, compliancy is easily achieved because the operating systems are “beyond compliant.” This process also has economic benefits: Long-term monitoring requirements become less complicated when you implement measures to protect water resources.  Through the identification and use of on-site resources and the establishment of passive systems, the maintenance and overhead required is minimized and thus economic margins are expanded.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Cannabis Cultivation Discharge Waiver Regulatory Program, Order No. 2015-0023 is a great place to start the process for environmental compliancy. Focusing on meeting the standard conditions, pages 15-21, and utilizing them as a checklist before hiring a 3rd party is a great way to empower yourself in the process.  After a nice walkabout of your property, take a look at the conditions that you were unable to cross off and ask yourself:

  1. Is there an easy change that I can make to meet the standard condition?  
  2. Is there a more complex or lengthy change that can be made but one that I can deploy?
  3. Is the change required beyond my capacity and/or requires guidance or implementation by a licensed professional?  

A great resource for both short and long term strategies is Appendix B and the Resources page at

We are responsible for the change we create. A thriving, watershed conscious cannabis community is one the forest, rivers and inhabitants deserve.

For more information, contact Compliant Farms at (707) 502-4870 or

Now Available! A follow up column where Compliant Farms shares the Self-Guided Process to determine cannabis farm tier status.


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