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Water | Environment

Rainwater Reservoirs Net Jail Time For Oregon Man

In 1909 the Oregon legislature declared that all water in the state is publicly owned.

In 1909 the Oregon legislature declared that all water in the state is publicly owned.

MEDFORD, Ore. — A Southern Oregon man is facing 30 days in jail and a hefty fine for building dams of up to 15 feet high to keep rainwater on his property and out of his local watershed.

A court has sentenced Gary Harrington of Eagle Point to 30 days in jail, and a $1,500 fine for maintaining 3 illegal reservoirs on his property.

Harrington has told the court, and the Mail Tribune newspaper, that he was just storing rainwater to use for wildfire protection.

Tom Paul, Deputy Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, says rainwater is what fills most of the rivers in Oregon; landowners can’t divert its natural flow it without getting permission first.

“If you build a dam, an earthen dam, and interrupt the flow of water off of the property, and store that water that is an activity that would require a water right permit from us” Paul said.

According to Paul, one of Harrington’s dams was 15 feet high. And the dams were capturing water that flowed into a nearby creek, which belongs to the City of Medford. Harrington is appealing his conviction and jail sentence.

A final note: if you’re capturing the rainwater that runs off your roof or driveway, no need to worry. There’s an exemption in Oregon’s water rights law just for that: it’s #7 on the list of exemptions here.