Gary Harrington of Eagle Point, Ore., was convicted on nine misdemeanor charges for having ''three illegal reservoirs,'' according to state water managers, and filling them with runoff from rain and snow.
The Jackson County Circuit Court ruling was based on a 1925 law that states that the city of Medford has sole rights to ''core sources of water'' in the Big Butte Creek watershed and its tributaries. Harrington's reservoirs – actually all small ponds – divert water away from Big Butte Creek, which the court ruled was a violation of Medford water rights.
In his own defense, Harrington said that the water he collected was runoff from his property and not a water source that state officials could regulate. One of the three reservoirs – which have been used to fight fires on Harrington's 170 acres and in neighboring areas – has been on the land for 37 years.
Harrington said he applied for three permits to keep the reservoirs legally, but after receiving said permits in 2003, the state reversed itself and revoked them a short time later.
A Jackson County Circuit Court judge denied Harrington's permits again in 2007, at which time he entered a guilty plea for illegally appropriating the water and received three years probation. Harrington complied with the court order and let the runoff run on after that, but once his probation ended, he closed the water gates and let the ponds fill again.
Oregon Water Resources Department administrator Tom Paul told CNS News that although the 1925 Medford law did apply in Harrington’s conviction, the reservoirs would not stand because ''Oregon law 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.''
Harrington intends to continue fighting the ruling, and he told Fox News that he would serve his sentence if he cannot get it overturned before he is required to report to jail. Harrington remains convinced that building reservoirs for runoff on his own property – a sustainable stormwater management tool that would earn him environmental kudos on a new building project – is an acceptable and appropriate practice, and the opposition from the state is an example of government overreach.
''The government is bullying,'' Harrington said. ''When something is wrong … 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.'''
UPDATE 8/9/12: Harrington began serving his 30-day sentence yesterday morning by reporting to the Jackson County jail in Oregon.
“I’m sacrificing my liberty so we can stand up as a country and stand for our liberty,” Harrington told a small crowd of people gathered outside of the jail.