MEDFORD, Ore. — A man who’s been battling Oregon water managers for more than a decade over three fishing ponds dammed up on his rural Jackson County property has been sent to jail for 90 days.
A judge said Monday that Gary Harrington, 65, has been flouting the law in his attempts to keep storing runoff that state law allocates to the Medford Water Commission.
“Most people, when caught in a criminal act, at least promise not to do the act again,” Judge Lorenzo Mejia said.
He said Harrington has had ample time to drain the ponds as he was ordered to do after he was convicted last year of illegally diverting the water. The judge gave him until April 29 to report to jail.
In a courtroom packed with Harrington’s supporters, Mejia dismissed as a sham Harrington’s claim that he’d transferred the property to a private membership association.
Harrington continues to live on and manage the property, but he told the judge, “My wife and I are done with the ponds.”
The ponds are behind dams ranging up to 20 feet tall. One is 13 feet deep and nearly an acre in size. They block channels that flow into Big Butte Creek. Harrington says they were created to fight fires, but they are stocked with fish and have boat docks on the banks.
A 1925 law gives the Medford commission ownership of the water in the creek and its tributaries, the core of the city’s municipal water supply.
Harrington was first convicted of taking water without a permit in 2002 and has maintained that the law doesn’t apply to the rainwater and snowmelt on the 172-acre property near Eagle Point.