Steelhead trout spawning season was saved this year in a southern Santa Clara County creek thanks to wardens who raided an illegal marijuana farm and cleaned up the toxic mess left behind.
This fall, state Department of Fish and Game wardens arrested three San Jose men for damming up a tributary of Llagas Creek and diverting large amounts of water to grow pot. Their marijuana operation, wardens said, temporarily dried up a 1,000-square-foot portion of the tributary.
Fish and Game Lt. John Nores said his team was able to destroy the dam, and clean up the area from the pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic waste polluting the area, just in time to save spawning season for the steelhead trout.
“They left all these poisons there,” Nores said. “Part of our work is restoring the environment.”
The Santa Clara County operation, which includes the joint cooperation of the sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Team, highlights the environmental damage that pot farms are causing throughout the state. Since late August, state Fish and Game wardens and deputies in the Northern California have arrested 15 people accused of illegally drawing at least 620,000 gallons of water from creeks, rivers and streams to feed their thirsty marijuana plants.
Spawning season in the Llagas Creek begins when the first fall rains hit, which is slated to come thundering down on Thursday, and typically lasts through February.
“The timing was impeccable,”
said Andrea MacKenzie, general manager for the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the public land that envelops the creek in the southwest portion of San Jose. “You couldn’t have asked for a better bust, right before the rains are to come.”
Growing pot, and stealing water to do so, is a rising phenomenon statewide, said state Fish and Game Warden Patrick Foy.
Arrested on Sept. 30 were: Octavio Gutierrez Delgado, 35; Jesus Gomez (aka Esteban Hernandez Gallardo), 49; and Gustavo Hernandez Ledezma, 43, a registered sex offender. Delgado and Ledezma bailed out of custody the day after their arrest. Gomez is still in jail.
In addition to facing charges of illegal marijuana cultivation, the men were also arrested on charges of killing a grey fox that wardens said died after drinking toxic water, polluting, illegally diverting water and destroying habitat. These particular suspects were not armed and grew their small pot farm in an unpopulated part of the park, authorities said.
The Llagas Creek is located in the southwest corner of San Jose, and runs from Mount Madonna Road to Gilroy. The portion that was dried up is a tributary right on the southern boundary of Callero County Park. The creek is part of the Rancho Canada del Oro Santa Clara County Open Space Authority.
Nores said the suspects were spotted while on their daily hikes into this portion of the creek. He said wardens and deputies secretly observed them tending their crop in late summer and then getting picked up each evening. On the day of the arrests, Nores and his team hid out, waiting for the suspects to harvest their plants. Authorities caught the first two, he said, and then waited nightfall to arrest the driver.
In Mendocino County, wardens arrested 12 men and women near Dos Rios for clearing an entire hillside to create their pot farm and illegally diverting 300,000 gallons of water from the Eel River. Wardens said the suspects used large water storage tanks and bladders to irrigate 800 plants at the site. Inside a barn, wardens said they found another 100 marijuana plants and 200 pounds of processed weed.
And in Lake County, wardens found that suspects took 320,000 gallons of water from Cache Creek to cultivate at least 95 marijuana plants discovered so far, Foy said. Two guns and archery equipment were also found here. No one has been arrested in this case yet.
State officials were not able to quantify how much water was illegally diverted in Llagas Creek.
For MacKenzie of Santa Clara County’s Open Space Authority, growing pot simply has so many negative outcomes, no matter “how you personally feel about marijuana.”
“These people have total disregard for our streams and wildlife and the parks that belong to everyone,” she said. “They are just wreaking havoc on our public lands.”
Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-920-5002.