Oregon’s criminalization of rainwater collection is now complete: Saving water runoff will get you thrown in jail
01/03/2017 // Daniel Barker // Views

Officials in Jackson County, Oregon have again shown their disrespect for private property rights, telling a local couple they must tear out a 40-year-old two-acre pond located on the property they bought two years ago.

Jackson is the same county that recently imprisoned and fined another area landowner, Gary Harrington, for illegally collecting rainwater – the county said the water contained in the lakes Harrington built on his property belonged to the Medford Water Commission, according to a 1925 state law.

Harrington vowed to fight the commission, but eventually served 90 days in jail and paid $1500 for the ponds he built on his property, before finally being forced to destroy the dams and drain the lakes.

Now Jon and Sabrina Carey are facing a similar dilemma after being told that their pond is also in violation of the law.

When the couple bought their 10-acre property two and a half years ago, the pond was a major motivation for purchasing it – in fact, the pond could be said to be its only valuable feature. “We didn’t buy it for the double-wide,” said Sabrina Carey.

Are the Careys being singled out for growing medical marijuana?

The Careys were only notified that the pond was in violation of the law after they attempted to comply with other regulations regarding medical marijuana cultivation – those who grow cannabis for medical purposes are required to identify the irrigation source.

In this case, the pond was listed as the water source, and that apparently raised a red flag with the county water authorities. The Jackson County Watermaster's Office sent the Careys a letter stating that they not only had no rights to the water in their pond, but had no right to a pond on their property to begin with.


Never mind the fact that the pond was built 40 years ago and is clearly shown on the county records. Now the Careys are faced with reducing their property’s value drastically by removing the pond or, instead, fighting the local authorities – a choice that didn’t work out so well for Gary Harrington.

The Careys have tried to find other solutions – they have offered to reduce the size of the pond and to make the water available for fire-fighting and drought relief operations in the area.

Their lawyer, Sarah Liljefelt, has requested that the commission grant a permit to the Careys to store water for the good of the community.

From the Mail Tribune:

“In the past, the pond has been used for fire suppression and is accessible to fire trucks from Butte Falls Highway, Liljefelt stated.

“Liljefelt said the pond is an important source of water for beavers, otters, elk, deer, bear, mountain lion, bobcat, bald eagle osprey, great blue heron, snowy egret, Canada geese and the western pond turtle.”

Indeed, after forty years it would seem obvious that the pond supports wildlife and that its presence is not only valuable to the Careys, but to the community as a whole.

But the authorities aren’t buying it and are reportedly “disinclined” to accept the request.

Water Commission fears “setting a precedent” by allowing the Careys to keep their own pond

“Water Commission staff found several problems with the Careys' request, including setting a precedent that could prompt similar requests and weaken state statutes while not meeting the definition of ‘municipal water source.’”

For most of us, the idea that the government should have the right to own what is on someone’s private property and to tell them what they can do with it is a violation of the principles this country was founded on.

But in Jackson County, the rules are different and reflect a nationwide trend towards excessive governmental control over private property and people’s lives.

As Gary Harrington said, however:

“When something is wrong, you just, as an American citizen, 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.’”





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