Collecting rainwater is one of basic survival skills. However, such practice seems to be illegal in the US and you might end up in jail.
A man from Oregon was sentenced 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 stated that he is outraged by such decision.
He also revealed that 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 court has given Harrington two weeks to report to the Jackson County Jail to begin serving his sentence.
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 said.
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.
Harrington said that the 1925 law doesn’t mention anything about collecting rainwater or snow melt — and he believes that he has been falsely accused.
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 said.
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.
“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.