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Rainwater reservoirs undrained as property ownership changes

EAGLE POINT — The three illegal reservoirs on Gary Harrington's property have gotten him into trouble once again, but they also might have served what he describes as their intended purpose.

Harrington is facing a probation violation charge for not draining the ponds as he was ordered to do earlier this summer after he was convicted of illegally storing water without a permit.

"I paid my fine and did my time, but the third part of my sentence was to drain the ponds," Harrington said. "But I can't do that because they are no longer mine."

Harrington claims to have relinquished his property to something known as a private membership association.

The rules on these agreements are fuzzy. Various websites that deal with private membership associations describe them as non-profit organizations that can operate outside government regulation.

They are popular with alternative health care providers because they seek to operate outside federal food and drug regulations.

Harrington said that more than 30 people have joined the organization that now owns his property.

Harrington uses dams to capture rain water that falls on his property. The water is collected in three reservoirs, one of which is 13 feet deep and close to an acre in size.

State officials claim that Harrington illegally collects the water by building 20-feet tall dams without permits.

The reservoirs are stocked with fish and are lined with boat docks.

The law exempts water collected off parking lots or rooftops and funneled into rain barrels, water resources officials say. If it's not gathered on an artificial, impervious surface, such as a rooftop, then you need a state water-right permit to collect it.

Harrington said the ponds are a valuable fire suppression resource in the summer. He said fire departments have pulled water from the ponds to fight blazes.

In fact, he said his ponds were used to fill water tender trucks used to fight a fire near his property on Crowfoot Road earlier this week.

"They came out in the middle of the night and used the ponds for water," Harrington said. "I have always said they are welcome to it."

The fire burned a two-story house to the ground. Oregon Department of Forestry and Butte Falls Fire Department engines responded to the scene.

Calls made to Butte Falls fire and ODF seeking comment for this story were not returned as of press time Friday night.

The probation violation charge preceded the fire. He is scheduled for arraignment on the probation violation in Jackson County Circuit Court on Oct. 15, according to District Attorney Mark Huddleston.

Harrington has been convicted three times over an 11-year span for illegally storing water without a permit.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.