2 Investigates: Environmental concerns surround South Bay pot farms

- As Santa Clara County supervisors consider new rules to further regulate indoor and outdoor medical marijuana growing operations, people in remote parts of the county say some pot farms are threatening the environment and their safety.

Just months after state and county authorities disrupted an illegal marijuana grow along Croy Road in Morgan Hill, people who frequent the area say the problems associated with pot farms in the area continue.  2 Investigates obtained photos of a small pump recently placed in Uvas Creek, along with a generator and a series of small pipes to divert the water.

While some properties may have access to natural waterways, the Department of Fish and Wildlife says it hasn't been granting permits to divert the water during the ongoing drought this summer. 

Santa Clara County authorities say they've found marijuana farms taking water from streams before.

"What you just provided as an example is a Fish and Game violation. It's an environmental crime by illegally diverting water to a marijuana grow," said Patrick Vanier, Supervisor of Narcotics for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

About five miles away from Croy Road and Uvas Creek, a KTVU camera was rolling as Santa Clara County's Marijuana Eradication Team (MET) busted another illegal marijuana grow, arresting five people and taking more than 800 plants.

In 2015, authorities have seized 32,000 plants county wide, worth an estimated street value of $65 million dollars.

"Any plant that we can pull up, any illegal operation that we can destroy and get rid of (will) put people on notice that we're out here. We're always out here," said Santa Clara County Sgt. James Jensen.

However, some people who spend time near Croy Road and Uvas Creek aren't convinced the crackdown is working.

"There's pot right back where they busted them," said one man who asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety.

Others told 2 Investigates that large marijuana grows are flourishing in the area, but they worry about the impact on the environment, fire danger and other hazards to their own safety.

"This isn't about medicinal marijuana or even recreational use. This is about some pretty scary stuff," said a woman who also asked to remain anonymous.

The Sheriff's Office says it has already pulled nearly 5,000 marijuana plants from the Croy Road area and an investigation into additional violations is still ongoing.

"We do sympathize with (neighbors), but we're trying to go out there as much as we can" said Jensen.

The drought and dry conditions have some worried about another fire like the one that destroyed 34 homes near Croy Road in 2002.  Investigators ultimately blamed an unpermitted solar panel, improperly installed at a marijuana farm, for starting the fire.

"We understand that these are not just lemonade stands sitting on the side of the road.  That these cause real danger to the community," said Vanier.

In September, Santa Clara County Supervisors are expected to vote on a new ordinance designed to limit the impact of medical marijuana farms in the area. 

The county currently has a ban on outdoor grows in unincorporated areas.  The new rules would restrict the size of both indoor and outdoor operations. Outdoor pot farms would be limited to 12 plants.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a law that allows for large civil fines against marijuana growers who dump hazardous chemicals into streams and rivers.

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