Oregon Man Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail for Collecting Rainwater on His Property

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(CNSNews.com) – A rur­al Ore­gon man was sen­tenced Wednes­day to 30 days in jail and over $1,500 in fines because he had three reser­voirs on his prop­er­ty to col­lect and use rain­wa­ter.

Gary Har­ring­ton of Eagle Point, Ore., says he plans to appeal his con­vic­tion in Jack­son Coun­ty (Ore.) Cir­cuit Court on nine mis­de­meanor charges under a 1925 law for hav­ing what state water man­agers called “three ille­gal reser­voirs” on his prop­er­ty – and for fill­ing the reser­voirs with rain­wa­ter and snow runoff.

The gov­ern­ment is bul­ly­ing,” Har­ring­ton told CNSNews.com in an inter­view Thurs­day.

They’ve just got­ten to be big bul­lies and if you just lay over and die and give up, that just makes them big­ger bul­lies. So, we as Amer­i­cans, we need to stand on our con­sti­tu­tion­al rights, on our rights as cit­i­zens and hang tough. This is a good coun­try, we’ll pre­vail,” he said.

The court has giv­en Har­ring­ton two weeks to report to the Jack­son Coun­ty Jail to begin serv­ing his sen­tence.

[Audio record­ing of Gary Har­ring­ton:]

Har­ring­ton said the case first began in 2002, when state water man­agers told him there were com­plaints about the three “reser­voirs” – ponds – on his more than 170 acres of land.

Accord­ing to Ore­gon water laws, all water is pub­licly owned. There­fore, any­one who wants to store any type of water on their prop­er­ty must first obtain a per­mit from state water man­agers.

Har­ring­ton said he applied for three per­mits to legal­ly house reser­voirs for storm and snow water runoff on his prop­er­ty. One of the “reser­voirs” had been on his prop­er­ty for 37 years, he said.

Though the state Water Resources Depart­ment ini­tial­ly approved his per­mits in 2003, the state – and a state court — ulti­mate­ly reversed the deci­sion.

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.

The case, he said, is cen­tered on a 1925 law which states that the city of Med­ford holds exclu­sive rights to “all core sources of water” in the Big Butte Creek water­shed and its trib­u­taries.

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,” Har­ring­ton told CNSNews.com.

Har­ring­ton told CNSNews.com, how­ev­er, that the 1925 law doesn’t men­tion any­thing about col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter or snow melt — and he believes that he has been false­ly accused.

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

But Tom Paul, admin­is­tra­tor of the Ore­gon Water Resources Depart­ment, claims that Har­ring­ton has been vio­lat­ing the state’s water use law by divert­ing water from streams run­ning into the Big Butte Riv­er.

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,” Paul told CNSNews.com.

Yet Paul admit­ted the 1925 law does apply because, he said, Har­ring­ton con­struct­ed dams to block a trib­u­tary to the Big Butte, which Med­ford uses for its water sup­ply.

There are dams across chan­nels, water chan­nels where the water would nor­mal­ly flow if it were not for the dam and so those dams are stop­ping the water from flow­ing in the chan­nel and stor­ing it- hold­ing it so it can­not flow down­stream,” Paul told CNSNews.com.

Har­ring­ton, how­ev­er, argued in court that that he is not divert­ing water from Big Butte Creek, but the dams cap­tur­ing the rain­wa­ter and snow runoff – or “dif­fused water” – are on his own prop­er­ty and that there­fore the runoff does not fall under the juris­dic­tion of the state water man­agers, nor does it not vio­late the 1925 act.

In 2007, a Jack­son Coun­ty Cir­cuit Court judge denied Harrington’s per­mits and found that he had ille­gal­ly “with­drawn the water at issue from appro­pri­a­tion oth­er than for the City of Med­ford.”

Accord­ing to Paul, Har­ring­ton entered a guilty plea at the time, received three years pro­ba­tion and was ordered to open up the water gates.

A very short peri­od of time fol­low­ing the expi­ra­tion of his pro­ba­tion, he once again closed the gates and re-filled the reser­voirs,” Paul told CNSNews.com. “So, this has been going on for some time and I think frankly the court felt that Mr. Har­ring­ton was not get­ting the mes­sage and decid­ed that they’d already giv­en him pro­ba­tion once and required him to open the gates and he refilled his reser­voirs and it was busi­ness as usu­al for him, so I think the court want­ed — it felt it need­ed — to give a stiffer penal­ty to get Mr. Harrington’s atten­tion.”

In two weeks, if unsuc­cess­ful in his appeals, Har­ring­ton told CNSNews.com that he will report to the Jack­son Coun­ty Jail to serve his sen­tence.

I fol­low the rules. If I’m man­dat­ed to report, I’m going to report. Of course, I’m going to do what it takes in the mean­time to pre­vent that, but if I’m not suc­cess­ful, I’ll be there,” Har­ring­ton said.

But Har­ring­ton also said that he will nev­er stop fight­ing the gov­ern­ment on this issue.

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.”

Source:  http://cnsnews.com/news/article/oregon-man-sentenced-30-days-jail-collecting-rainwater-his-property

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