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Man jailed for collecting rainwater in illegal reservoirs on his property

By Harris Effron

An Eagle Point, Ore., man has begun serving a 30-day jail sentence after he built three reservoirs on his property to collect rainwater -- an apparent violation of a state law that says all water is publicly owned.

Gary Harrington has collected nearly 13 million gallons of water in his reservoirs (one of which is pictured below). That's enough to fill 20 Olympic-size swimming pools. But two weeks ago, he was found guilty of breaking the 1925 Oregon law against private water collection. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and issued a $1,500 fine.

AOL Real Estate/empowerthejury.org

Oregon's Water Resources Department said that though it is legal to set up rainwater collection barrels on roofs or other artificial surfaces, Harrington's reservoirs go way beyond that and required permits.

"Mr. Harrington has operated these three reservoirs in flagrant violation of Oregon law for more than a decade," the department's deputy director, Tom Paul, told the Medford Mail Tribune.

The state initially approved permits for Harrington's reservoirs in 2003, but reversed its decision.

"They issued me my permits. I had my permits in hand and they retracted them just arbitrarily, basically," Harrington told CNSNews.com. "They took them back and said, 'No, you can't have them.' So I've been fighting it ever since."

Harrington has been ordered to drain his three reservoirs, something that he vows to continue fighting. He said that he is only using the rainwater for personal use and fire suppression and that the state is infringing on his rights.

"The government is bullying," he told CNSNews.com. "They've just gotten to be big bullies and if you just lay over and die and give up, that just makes them bigger bullies."

Harrington has set up a website, www.empoweringthejury.org, to appeal to the public for support. The site includes videos defending his reservoirs and a petition that asks for signatures and donations.

But that doesn't sway state officials.

"What we're after is compliance with Oregon water law, regardless of what the public thinks of Mr. Harrington," Paul told the Mail Tribune.

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