- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

REDDING, Calif. (AP) - Water regulators in California have fined the owner of a former marijuana farm and a licensed excavation contractor $297,400 for fouling a creek while preparing a piece of land in Shasta County for pot-growing.

The fine announced Friday was the first to result from a multi-agency pilot project charged with reducing the negative environmental effect of marijuana being cultivated on private property, State Water Resources Control Board attorney Yvonne West said.

The farm about 20 miles west of Redding has been owned since 2013 by Christopher Cordes, 33, who is originally from Florida and most recently has been living in Texas, West said.

Cordes hired a construction company in Redding to clear about 3.8 acres of the site for planting and to extend an existing access road. The extensive grading was done without permits or erosion-control measures, causing sediment to flow into two tributaries of a creek that serves as habitat for chinook salmon, West said.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board voted on June 5 to fine Cordes and the contractor $139,700 for that project. Cordes was fined another $157,700 for dumping dirt into two stream crossings while building another road.

The two also have been ordered to improve the property to prevent future environmental damage.

“This particular grow site is probably fairly common in the number of plants we see,” Central Valley Water Board Assistant Executive Director Clint Snyder said. “What made this site unique was the amount of graded activity. It far exceeded the amount needed to accommodate plants.”

Officials learned about the farm from Shasta County sheriff’s deputies who raided the site in October and destroyed about 100 plants growing there, West said. The Associated Press was unable to find a working telephone number for Cordes, who did not reply to an email request for comment.

The pilot project first funded this year includes the state water board, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and two regional water boards. A bill advancing through the California Legislature would expand the program statewide.

“Really, our goal is to hold cultivation to the same standard we would hold any other industry,” West said.

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