Homeowner Gary Harrington continues to be persecuted by Oregon State water
The Oregon Herald: Homeowners should beware that there are state managers who would take the very water that falls on your property, take you to court and prosecute you as a criminal.
Gary Harrington of rural Eagle Point said he will continue his long legal battle against Oregon water managers who want the water that falls on his property. He said the water containers the managers are concerned about are merely ponds holding rain and snow runoff from his own property, and that he stores the water mainly for fire protection.
Oregonians and many property owners around the United States are quite away, this summer, of how important it could be to have extra water to wet the roof and other property on your own land.
Harrington plans to appeal his recent conviction on nine misdemeanor charges for filling his own private reservoirs with rain and snow runoff the state steadfastly maintains is owned by the Medford Water Commission.
That’s right. The state swears they own the water on your own property.
Harrington disagrees with the state’s interpretation of a 1925 state law granting the commission broad water rights to the Big Butte Creek Basin. He believes he’s been singled out amid other pond owners.
“When it comes to the point where a rural landowner can’t catch rainwater that falls on his land to protect his property, it’s gone too far,” he said. “This should serve as a dire warning to all pond owners.”
Oregon officials have dragged Harrington through the state court system for a decade for using his own water without a permit, convicting him of “illegally taking water without a permit” in 2002.
Harrington’s case was prosecuted by the state Department of Justice at the request of the Jackson County District Attorney’s office. Prosecutor Patrick Flanagan, who handled the case with die-hard passion, declined to comment until after Harrington’s sentencing.
Harrington represented himself at his trial Tuesday. It was no surprise when a six-member jury convicted him on three counts each on charges of illegal use of water denied by a water master, unauthorized use of water and interfering with a lawfully established head gate or water box.
At issue is the interpretation of the 1925 state law that gave the water commission exclusive rights to all the water in Big Butte Creek, its tributaries and Big Butte Springs. That’s core of the city’s municipal water supply.
Harrington has argued in court documents that he’s not diverting water from the creek system, but capturing rainwater and snowmelt from his 172-acre property along Crowfoot Road. He maintained that the runoff does not fall under the state’s jurisdiction and does not violate the 1925 act.
Water managers have said the runoff is a tributary of nearby Crowfoot Creek and thus subject to the law. Here’s additional details:
The Oregon Legislature closed Big Butte Springs drainage from any additional
appropriation in 1925 and gave all additional water to the City of Medford. The
Commission receives most of its water supply from the Big Butte Springs. The
water begins as snowmelt on Mt. McLoughlin and percolates through volcanic soils to emerge again as springs. The Big Butte Springs watershed is a multiple-use watershed consisting of 56,000 acres of private and publicly-managed lands. This watershed provides the recharge zone for the Big Butte Springs.
While I am no attorney, I don’t believe Mr. Harrington is in the wrong. It’s not like he’s withdrawing water from the creek, just the sky. Is he wrong or getting screwed by big government?