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What Would Woody Guthrie Say?

July 31, 2012

This land is your land, but the water on it is our land…

This water was made for me, not you…

Or something like that.  And thanks to Reason’s Hit and Run Blog for this fine pointer.  If you’re concerned that all I do is make fun of California from my vantage point in Oregon, fear not.  I’ll make fun of Oregon as well.

A rural Eagle Point man was sentenced to 30 days in jail Wednesday for filling what state water managers have called three illegal reservoirs on his property.

Gary Harrington was also fined more than $1,500 for nine misdemeanor convictions for filling his reservoirs with rain and snow runoff that the state says is owned by the Medford Water Commission. He was given two weeks to report to the Jackson County Jail to begin serving his sentence.

Um… where to start?  This is Oregon, land of the environmentally responsible whack jobs o’plenty.  I personally thought it was a badge of honor to stick a collection barrel on your property so you could water your plants in a responsible way (note: I don’t do this.  It’d be a pain to figure out where to put the barrel.)  Apparently, if you’re too enthusiastic, you just get tossed in jail for it.

At the center of the case was a 1925 state law giving the water commission exclusive rights to all the water in Big Butte Creek, its tributaries and Big Butte Springs — the core of the city’s municipal water supply.

In court filings Harrington had argued that he’s not diverting water from the creek system, merely capturing rainwater and snowmelt from his 172 acres along Crowfoot Road.

Harrington has maintained that this runoff, called “diffused water,” does not fall under the state water-resources jurisdiction and does not violate the 1925 act.

If I had to guess, it’s either the case that someone wants a piece of this guy, and it’s convenient (semi-likely), or that he lives in Oregon, where all rules are malleable if the state thinks it can lord over you (likely).  Seriously?  This guy had 172 acres of land, and a couple ponds have attracted the attention of the state DOJ?

I’m generally a nice get-along kind of guy.  If there’s a dumb law, I’ll generally follow it given that it’s a law.  But how do I know if there’s a law preventing me from collecting a cup of water to keep the plants alive, or put out the fire on my roof when some dolt lights up the fireworks from across the boarder on the next July 4th?  If I put solar on my house, can I be prosecuted for capturing sunlight that is obviously a precious commodity in this land of drizzle?

Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail in this obviously dumb suit, but I feel for the guy who’s going to have to spend a lot of money fighting against a system that obviously just wants him to be wrong.

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