MEDFORD, Ore. – An Eagle Point man is now behind bars after building three illegal reservoirs on property he on his former property to store rain water and snow melt. The legal problem is that Gary Harrington has been using those ponds to collect rainfall and snow melt.
Harrington reported to Jackson County Jail this morning, to serve his 30 day sentence. He was sentenced last month after being convicted of nine charges all related to the misuse of water.
According to Oregon law, all water, including rain water and snow melt, are public. Anyone wanting to collect it for personal use must have a water rights permit. Harrington cannot get that permit because the water in his ponds would go to Big Butte Creek.
The Oregon Water Resources Department says, according to a 1920s state law, water rights to Big Butte Creek can only be granted to the city of Medford, but Harrington and his supporters believe his right is being taken away. More than fifty supporters gathered in front of the Jackson County Jail, supporting Harrington, and what they believe is a constitutional right.
The land changed hands right before Harrington’s sentence. He has also been ordered to pay $1,500 in fines and drain the ponds, which are used by ODF and other agencies to fight fires. His legal adviser says they will fight the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A website that supports Harrington has posted a letter from the Butte Falls Fire Department, which says the Harrington ponds are a firefighting asset. In a letter to Judge Tim Gerking, Butte Falls Fire Chief Jeff Gorman says firefighters can dip helicopter buckets and pump water from the pond to use on wildfires. He says there are no other similar water sources for miles. Gorman asks that authorities do not drain the ponds, so that they can continue to be used.
Steven Sandberg contributed to this report.