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MailTribune.com
  • State crews disable illegal dams that captured water near Butte Falls

  • State water-resources officials armed with a court order today destroyed the infrastructure to three illegal reservoirs on private land in the Butte Falls area, hoping to ends the legal clash with the dams' former owner, who twice has gone to jail as a convicted water thief.
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  • State water-resources officials armed with a court order today destroyed the infrastructure to three illegal reservoirs on private land in the Butte Falls area, hoping to ends the legal clash with the dams' former owner, who twice has gone to jail as a convicted water thief.
    Crews with an Oregon State Police escort entered the Crowfoot Road property of Gary Harrington before dawn and over the course of the day destroyed the head gates and outlets that state court cases ruled were part of illegal dams impounding stolen water.
    For more than a decade, Harrington maintained his "ponds" were the result of simply capturing rainwater on his property, yet a 1925 state law dictates that the water belongs to the Medford Water Commission. Also, the dams were built without permits and the water impounded without any water rights.
    While defying court orders to stop and serving two stints in the Jackson County Jail, Harrington has been touted as a property-rights champion despite losing in state courts at every turn.
    Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia signed an order April 10 directing the Oregon Water Resources Department to drain the reservoirs, which hade a combined capacity of 40 acre-feet, and dismantle the dams so water flows through them unimpeded.
    The same requirements were imposed when Harrington was convicted on nine misdemeanors in 2012.
    "We're following the court order to ensure no future storage of water can occur," state water resources spokeswoman Racquel Rancier said. "This has been going on for 13 years."
    Though an OSP fly-over found the reservoirs to be about half-full as recently as March, they were drained when water-resources officials arrived, Rancier said.
    Mejia's order also requires Harrington to pay for today's activities. No cost of today's operation was available, Rancier said.
    — Mark Freeman
    Read more in Wednesday's Mail Tribune.
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