Magazine Feature: How to Lower Cultivation Water Costs

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Cultivators can lower their water use and related costs by focusing on everything from automation to wells and hand watering

by Omar Sacirbey

The $550 that Giving Tree Wellness in Phoenix pays on average for water each month may seem like a drop in the bucket compared with the nearly $20,000 it shells out for electricity.

But the company, which both grows and sells medical marijuana, is constantly looking for ways to push its water bill even lower.

Giving Tree’s CEO, Lilach Power, is from Israel originally, and she now lives in Arizona – two places where water is precious. So she considers conservation a top priority, particularly as the company undergoes an expansion project that will significantly boost its water use and costs.

Giving Tree and other cannabis cultivators across the nation are increasingly exploring and implementing water-conservation strategies to lessen their impacts on the environment and lower their expenses. Top strategies include everything from drip irrigation and hydroponics to owning a well, plus harvesting water from the air through dehumidification.

These methods provide the added benefit of helping companies develop a “good neighbor” reputation and gain the peace of mind that comes with being a high-minded corporate citizen.

“We make sure we are responsible growers and don’t just dump nutrients and water into the city pipes,” Power said. “We make sure we have as little or no runoff as possible.”

Regulating Water Use

Giving Tree has a 10,000-square-foot indoor grow in north Phoenix with 1,100 plants in pots and organic soil as well as coco. The plants collectively require about 700 gallons of water per day, with larger ones consuming about a liter each daily.

Because of the company’s sky-high electricity bill, it is expanding by building a greenhouse about two hours north of Phoenix, where power costs are cheaper. The new facility will have about 30,000 square feet allocated to growing flower and another 15,000 square feet dedicated to propagation, genetics and vegetation.

While Giving Tree’s grow space is quadrupling (the plants will also take a direct hit from the hot Arizona sun), its water use will increase by only about 1.5 times. That’s thanks to a variety of water-saving strategies – two of which the company already uses at its indoor grow site in north Phoenix, plus some new ones. The combination of these strategies should help Giving Tree keep its water costs in check.

Inside the north Phoenix grow site, Giving Tree uses an automatic drip irrigation system where water circulates slowly into the plants over the course of the day. The system also has instruments that measure the moisture and nutrient levels in individual pots three times per hour. If a plant is found to have sufficient moisture, the irrigation system won’t deliver additional water to that plant.

That is more efficient than dumping large amounts of water into the plant periodically, which may result in excessive runoff.

“It’s not a huge expense but it’s a one-time expense,” Power said. “If you look at the agricultural world, there are plenty of other people that do that. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re just bringing it to the cannabis industry.”

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