- Oregon man convicted of collecting rainwater on his own property surrenders and begins serving 30-day jail sentence (Natural News, Aug 14, 2012):
If ever there were a perfect example of government inanity, this is it.
Maybe you didn’t know – and chances are excellent you didn’t – that if you have the audacity to collect rainwater and snow runoff on your own property, for your own consumption, you can and will go to jail for it.
Just ask Eagle Point, Ore., resident Gary Harrington, who recently began serving a 30-day sentence after having been convicted of that very thing, CNSNews.com reported.
In July, Harrington was convicted of violating an obscure, arcane 1925 law because he had what state water managers described as “three illegal reservoirs” on his property. In the end, a court found him guilty of nine misdemeanors, sentenced him to 30 days in jail and levied in excess of $1,500 in fines for doing what any sane human being could never describe as criminal behavior.
According to Oregon Water Resources Department, Harrington violated state water use laws by illegally diverting water running from streams into the Big Butte River.
Harrington begged to differ, saying he was only collecting water that flowed or melted naturally on his property, not from any particular body of water.
The whole ridiculous episode began nearly a decade ago, when state water managers contacted him after complaints they said they had received about the three “reservoirs” he allegedly had on his 170 acres of land.
Tortured explanations, ridiculous rules
State law in Oregon says all water is publicly owned, therefore, if you want to store any of it – apparently no matter where it originally comes from – you have to obtain a permit from state water gatekeepers.
Harrington played the game, he said, and applied for three permits so he could comply with state law and house reservoirs for storm and snow run-off on his property. A side note: one of the so-called “reservoirs” had been on his property for 37 years.
He went onto say that the state Water Resources Department initially approved his permits in 2003, but then, inexplicably, the state – backed by a state court decision – reversed them.
“They issued me my permits. I had my permits in hand and they retracted them just arbitrarily, basically. They took them back and said ‘No, you can’t have them,’ so I’ve been fighting it ever since,” Harrington told CNSNews.com.
Enter the nearly 90-year-old law, which says the nearby city of Medford holds exclusive rights to “all core sources of water” in the Big Butte Creek watershed and all appropriate tributaries (though according to other regulations, water in the state is supposed to be publicly owned, hence the permit process in the first place).
“Way back in 1925, the city of Medford got a unique withdrawal that withdrew all — supposedly all — the water out of a single basin and supposedly for the benefit of the city of Medford,” he said.
But, he continued, the 1925 law doesn’t say anything about collecting rainwater or melted snow.
“The withdrawal said the stream and its tributaries. It didn’t mention anything about rainwater and it didn’t mention anything about snow melt and it didn’t mention anything about diffused water, but yet now, they’re trying to expand that to include that rain water and they’re using me as the goat to do it,” Harrington said.
When something’s wrong, it’s time to say so
Tom Paul, Oregon Water Resources Department administrator, maintained that indeed, Harrington has violated the law because he is allegedly diverting water away from streams that flow into the Big Butte.
“The law that he is actually violating is not the 1925 provision, but it’s Oregon law that says all of the water in the state of Oregon is public water and if you want to use that water, either to divert it or to store it, you have to acquire a water right from the state of Oregon before doing that activity,” he told CNSNews.com.
But wait – isn’t that what Harrington was doing?
Moreover, Paul said the 1925 law applies as well because he said Harrington constructed dams to block a Big Butte tributary which Medford uses to supply water to its citizens.
It all sounds like a tortured – but poor – attempt to justify unjustifiable actions and regulations.
For his part, Harrington is using the episode as a constitutional teaching moment.
“When something is wrong, you just, as an American citizen, you have to put your foot down and say, ‘This is wrong; you just can’t take away anymore of my rights and from here on in, I’m going to fight it,’” he said.