With a rising death toll of eight confirmed fatalities, entire communities underwater, and millions of people affected, Hurricane Harvey has decimated parts of Texas and Louisiana. Currently this Southern landscape is submerged under trillions of gallons of water that’s been dumped over the past few days. And as the violent weather is downgraded to a tropical storm that continues to wreak havoc, it’s become apparent that marijuana grow rooms and outdoor marijuana plants are also among the many environmental casualties of deadly Hurricane Harvey.
Within the Houston area — which has nearly 7 million people, one quarter of Texas’s entire population — there are dozens of hydroponics stores, thousands of grow rooms, and countless covert outdoor marijuana gardens.
For cannabis growers in the Lone Star State and other parts of the continent where the past decades’ tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, blizzards, windstorms and wildfires have caused widespread chaos, these natural phenomena create unprecedented challenges and difficult choices.
Kenny (not his real name) is a Houston indoor cannabis grower who has been running clandestine grow rooms in Texas for a number of years.
He says Texas officials and Houston residents knew years ago — due to flooding caused by 2008’s Hurricane Ike and from strong storms in the years that followed — that Greater Houston, including The Woodlands and Sugar Land areas, are especially vulnerable to flooding.
“Scientists and planners warned us that unless the government made major changes in the flood control system, and population growth restrictions were put in place, it was only a matter of time before we had our own [Hurricane] Katrina. Now it’s happened,” Kenny says.
In the brave new world of climate change, superstorms and chaotic urbanization, marijuana growers are on the front lines of trying to find ways to be resilient and adapt to sudden, catastrophic conditions.
Kenny said that nine years ago during Hurricane Ike, his grow room and 37 marijuana plants were ruined by two feet of floodwater that infiltrated his house. Because of that, he relocated to what he thought was higher, safer ground.
“But as Hurricane Harvey moved in this weekend, our neighborhood got a mandatory evacuation order,” Kenny reports. “The streets already had two feet of water. There was nothing I could do except leave my plants behind and flee. I lost plants and hydroponics equipment. My neighborhood is now flooded with six feet of water. My house is filled with water and mud.”
Steps For Disaster Mitigation
There’s no way marijuana growers or the wider population can totally prepare for the catastrophic conditions created by hurricanes and other large-scale weather disasters.
However, the following tactics are useful as preventive or reactive strategies so that indoor marijuana growers might avoid total crop loss. (In a follow-up article, we’ll focus on what outdoor marijuana growers can do in these same dire circumstances.)
- Study flood maps, fire risks, and other topographic, climatic, and infrastructure issues before you choose a location for your indoor grow room.
- Subscribe to premium weather warning services; monitor first responder emergency networks to get early news about potential disasters.
- Have a disaster emergency plan in place before something like Hurricane Harvey hits your area. Plan an exit strategy that maximizes your ability to save valuable marijuana seeds, plants and marijuana grow gear.
- Instead of situating your marijuana grow house in a low-lying, flood-prone area, choose higher ground in the foothills or mountains nearby. Instead of placing a grow house in a dry western forest with lots of trees very close to the house, choose a location that has a reduced fire risk due to tree clearing and trimming that is sensitive to the environment.
- Use a multistory structure for your grow op and put your indoor marijuana garden on a floor above ground level.
- Have a portable backup generator on a platform above flood level and wired to provide electricity to your grow room and related infrastructure (such as your air conditioning equipment).
- Elevate air conditioning equipment and otherwise harden your house infrastructure so it’s less susceptible to floods and harsh conditions.
- Have a trustworthy grow buddy who lives in a safe location who can babysit your plants if your grow room is threatened.
- If your grow room is imminently threatened and you’re unable to carefully transport your plants to a safe location, consider taking clones of the plants before you abandon your grow house during an evacuation. Marijuana clones are much easier to transport and keep alive, even if you’re stuck for days in a hotel room or makeshift shelter.
- If you’re unable to move your marijuana plants to a safe location where they can continue living, you need to cut them, bag them, remove them from your house. Dismantle your grow op and carry it away with you. You do this in part to salvage grow op equipment. You also do this so you don’t get busted. During evacuations, government officials have the right to enter your home without your permission. If they come in and find a grow op, you’re likely to get busted. You also want to have zero grow-op infrastructure when homeowners insurance adjustors visit your home after a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey.
- If you grow marijuana in pure hydroponics systems such as deep water culture or aeroponics, there’s really no way to safely and suddenly move them. Only if your plants are growing in a solid root zone media that holds water, oxygen and nutrients — such as rockwool, coco coir, soilless mix or soil — can you expect plants to survive being taken out of your grow room.
Above All, Listen To Your Grower Community
Kenny says one of his grower friends told him three days before Hurricane Harvey hit that he should shut down his grow op, rent a big truck, and get the hell out of Houston.
Kenny didn’t listen to him, but now he wishes he had.
“My buddy rented a small U-Haul truck while there were still trucks to rent. At night, he moved his plants, lights, and other expensive hydro equipment into the truck, laid them on their side, and covered them up. He brought along camping gear, survival food, fertilizers, water bladders and buckets.
“He looked at storm maps and drove 250 miles northwest of Houston to higher ground, out of the storm’s path, and truck camped in the woods. Last I heard, his plants are suffering, but they’re alive. The big problem for him is his house is flooded, so where does he have to go back to?”