(CBS SF) — A first of its kind regulatory plan approved by North Coast water quality officials Thursday now requires marijuana growers to register their operations and prove they are practicing environmentally responsible farming methods.

According to The Press Democrat, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 5-1 to pass a pilot program — the first in the country — intended to protect the environment from the contamination and degradation that often comes with large-scale cannabis cultivation.

Starting February 2016, marijuana cultivators growing on at least 2,000 square feet within the North Coast region, which runs from Marin County to the Oregon border, is required to enroll with the water quality agency or with an approved third party.

The third party option was designed for those growers weary of authority, especially given the cash crop’s illegal status under federal law.

“We are not endorsing marijuana cultivation,” board Chairman John Corbett said Thursday. Instead he said the board has decided  “take a status quo problem and take a first step” at creating a water quality program.

This news comes after a research team in the August issue of the journal BioScience urged government agencies to ramp up enforcement and bring marijuana plots under tighter environmental control.

The study claims marijuana uses 5-10 gallons of water everyday during their growing season — twice the amount of water than wine grapes when grown outside.

In their own study, Marijuana advocacy group Cal NORML said the average number of gallons used on plants daily was 2.3, adding that overall cannabis cultivation uses .04 percent or less of all water used for agriculture in California.

The water board’s new plan is likely to serve as a model for other regions needing to address issues of water use, erosion control and pollution runoff. The Central Valley board is expected to discuss a plan of their own next month.

Nicole Jones is a digital producer for CBS San Francisco. Follow her musings @nicjonestweets

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