UPDATE 5/8/2018: After HEMP published this article in our Issue 3 print magazine in April, the government once again rejected Phillips’ application for water. On May 7, a lawyer filed a letter of demand on Phillips behalf. This letter, which Phillips shared with HEMP, clearly explains that she’s followed all the legal requirements of the 2014 Farm Bill and the state of Montana’s hemp growing laws. “I’m 100% legal under the program,” Phillips said.
In response to the letter, Dan Dubray at the Bureau of Reclamation told HEMP, “I can tell you that the request is under review and we’re fully expecting to address it by the end of the month.”
Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said his organization will intercede in the situation if possible. “According to the Department of Agriculture, they talked to the DEA and the DEA said, ‘No, that’s not a problem, she can get water.’”
He seemed confused about why Phillips’ permit was denied. “I don’t know why the Bureau of Reclamation is still holding back the water.”
“TECHNICALLY, NO ONE’S EVER denied me the water,” says hemp farmer Kim Phillips, with a laugh.
Legally, Phillips can grow hemp on her 75-acre farm in Montana’s Helena Valley, but whether she can water her crops is another matter.
Phillips is at the center of a dispute that highlights the legal gray area around hemp farming in the United States. The water source she can access from her property is a federally regulated irrigation district controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal organization that manages water projects in America’s 17 westernmost states. Although Phillips has followed Montana’s strict hemp regulations, the Bureau of Reclamation didn’t respond to her request for water in time for her to irrigate the crops she planted last year. Her field languished and died.
While Phillips has been more vocal about her troubles than most, she’s not the only farmer at risk if federal policy isn’t changed. Among the states under the bureau’s jurisdiction is Colorado, the current leader in U.S. hemp-growing acreage, and farmers there are worried too.
When it comes to the federal government, change comes slowly. This year, there are signs that the bureau is reevaluating its policies and a bill is making its way through Congress that could further clarify the issue. Still, Phillips is concerned she may have to take legal action to irrigate this summer.
“If they don’t let me have water,” she says, “I am planning on filing an emergency injunction to allow me to have the water until it’s resolved.”
Hemp farmers in western states face down the federal Bureau of Reclamation for the right to irrigate in time for growing season. UPDATE 5/8/2018: After HEMP published this article in our Issue 3 print magazine in April, the government once again rejected Phillips’ application for water.