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Water, water ...

The case of the Eagle Point resident sentenced to 30 days in jail for "collecting rainwater" on his own property has the Internet in an uproar. Those expressing outrage at this example of overbearing government should take care lest they turn out to be all wet.

Gary Harrington has been battling the Water Resources Department for a decade over three reservoirs on his 172-acre property. He and his defenders in cyberspace say he's being persecuted for catching rainwater from the sky.

Here, courtesy of the Oregon Department of Justice, is the rest of the story:

Two of Harrington's reservoirs have dams 10 feet tall; the dam on the third is 20 feet tall.

There are docks and boats on these reservoirs, and Harrington has stocked them with trout and bluegill in the past. Together, they hold 40 acre-feet of water — enough to fill nearly 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

That's a lot of rain.

Harrington has been battling the state over these reservoirs for a decade — and repeatedly thumbing his nose at water officials. When cited, he twice drained the water as ordered, then later closed the headgates and filled them again.

He maintains he is merely catching rainwater that happens to fall on his property. So would he be in trouble if he had rain barrels attached to the gutters of a house?

No. State law specifically allows collecting rainwater that falls on an impervious surface.

Would he be in trouble if there were small ponds created years ago on his land?

The law considers reservoirs created before 1995 that hold less than 9.2 acre-feet to be a "beneficial use," although there is another statute that might supersede that clause.

Harrington repeatedly defied the state Water Resources Department for more than 10 years. Last month, a jury found him guilty of all nine counts of illegally storing water.

Much of the outrage generated by this case stems from the idea that all the surface water in Oregon belongs to the public under state law. More specifically, in a separate statute the Legislature in 1925 granted the city of Medford exclusive rights to all water in Big Butte Springs, Big Butte Creek and its tributaries.

Water managers say the water Harrington has captured is a tributary of nearby Crowfoot Creek.

It is troubling that the government apparently can enforce jurisdiction over every drop of water in the Bug Butte Springs Watershed. But anyone hoping to see the law reconsidered should find a more sympathetic victim of government overreach.