Jul 28, 2012
by Ralph Metcalf
The Oregon Herald Opinion
Sunday July 15, 2012 8:04 PM
MEDFORD, Oregon — Homeownes should beware that there are state managers who would take the very water that falls on your property, take you to court and prosecute you as a criminal.
Gary Harrington of rural Eagle Point said he will continue his long legal battle against Oregon water managers who want the water that falls on his property. He said the water containers the managers are concerned about are merely ponds holding rain and snow runoff from his own property, and that he stores the water mainly for fire protection.
Oregonians and many property owners around the United States are quite away, this summer, of how important it could be to have extra water to wet the roof and other property on your own land.
Harrington plans to appeal his recent conviction on nine misdemeanor charges for filling his own private reservoirs with rain and snow runoff the state steadfastly maintains is owned by the Medford Water Commission.
That’s right. The state swears they own the water on your own property.
Harrington disagrees with the state’s interpretation of a 1925 state law granting the commission broad water rights to the Big Butte Creek Basin. He believes he’s been singled out amid other pond owners.
“When it comes to the point where a rural landowner can’t catch rainwater that falls on his land to protect his property, it’s gone too far,” he said. “This should serve as a dire warning to all pond owners.”
Oregon officials have dragged Harrington through the state court system for a decade for using hjis own water without a permit, convicting him of “illegally taking water without a permit” in 2002.
Harrington’s case was prosecuted by the state Department of Justice at the request of the Jackson County District Attorney’s office. Prosecutor Patrick Flanagan, who handled the case with die-hard passion, declined to comment until after Harrington’s sentencing.
Harrington represented himself at his trial Tuesday. It was no surprise when a six-member jury convicted him on three counts each on charges of illegal use of water denied by a water master, unauthorized use of water and interfering with a lawfully established head gate or water box.
At issue is the interpretation of the 1925 state law that gave the water commission exclusive rights to all the water in Big Butte Creek, its tributaries and Big Butte Springs. That’s core of the city’s municipal water supply.
Harrington has argued in court documents that he’s not diverting water from the creek system, but capturing rainwater and snowmelt from his 172-acre property along Crowfoot Road. He maintained that the runoff does not fall under the state’s jurisdiction and does not violate the 1925 act.
Water managers have said the runoff is a tributary of nearby Crowfoot Creek and thus subject to the law.
The Medford Water Commission’s principal source of water is Big Butte Springs, located about thirty miles northeast of Medford, Oregon, between Mt. McLoughlin and the town of Butte Falls. The springs’ capacities vary from 25 million gallons per day (MGD) to 35 MGD and are the primary source of system water for the entire year. The maximum withdrawal from the springs, limited by the capacity of the transmission facilities and water rights, is 26.4 MGD.
Jul 5, 2012
By DAVID PITT | Associated Press – Mon, Jul 2, 2012
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Midwest ranchers have never been enamored with environmental regulators, but they really began to complain after learning that federal inspectors were flying over their land to look for problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency flies over power plants and other facilities nationwide to identify potential air, water and land pollution. It began using aerial surveillance in the Midwest in 2010 to check farms for violations of federal clean water regulations.
Ranchers who object to the program said they’re not trying to hide anything. It’s the quiet approach the EPA took with the program designed to spot illegal disposal of animal waste that they find upsetting. Most were not even aware of the flyovers until regional EPA officials mentioned it at a meeting three months ago.
“For me, it just creeps into the ‘Big Brother is watching you’ area, to where the government just feels like it’s getting more and more intrusive,” said Buck Wehrbein, who manages a cattle feeding operation in Mead, Neb., about 30 miles west of Omaha.
EPA officials explained during a meeting with ranchers in West Point, Neb., that they lease small planes that fly EPA staffers over cattle operations. The staffers take photographs as they seek evidence of illegal animal waste running off into rivers and streams.
Ranchers complained to their members of Congress, who responded angrily and then grew even more annoyed by what they considered the EPA’s sluggish response to their inquiries for information about the flights. Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican, introduced an amendment to a multifaceted farm bill to stop the flights, but it fell four votes short of the 60 needed. Although most backers of the amendment were Republicans, 10 Democrats supported the proposal.
“EPA has been deliberately ambiguous when it comes to the size and scope of this program,” Johanns said in a statement. “EPA must be honest about this program or cease it entirely, and I will continue pressing for this information on behalf of all concerned farmers and ranchers.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, met June 25 with top EPA administrators to find out why the agency was flying over farms when there was no indication that regulations had been violated. He also sought more information about why the EPA flew over farms that weren’t required to have discharge permits.
“The EPA has come back with some answers, and those are being reviewed now,” Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said. The senator may go back to the EPA again for more detail, she added.
EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks, who oversees Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska from his Kansas City office, didn’t respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.
In response to more than two dozen questions sent by Nebraska’s congressional delegation to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on May 29, Brooks released a five-page document about the flights.
It said the agency conducted three flyovers in Iowa in 2010, five in 2011, and one this year. In Nebraska, there were six flights last year and three this year.
Two more flights are planned this year in each state.
The EPA said the flights don’t target individual farms and focus on areas with many animal feeding operations or watersheds where the state has identified streams polluted by animal waste.
As a result of the flights, the EPA said, it has taken 39 enforcement actions against Iowa livestock farmers and 14 against Nebraska producers.
Brooks said the agency uses the flights to minimize costs and reduce the number of on-site inspections.
“With one combined animal feeding operation inspection costing upwards of $10,000, and Region 7 responsible for improving water quality in about 1,800 miles of impaired Nebraska waters, across 50,000 square miles, EPA uses tools, like airplane flights, to focus our resources and compliance efforts where they are needed most,” he wrote.
Brooks’ response hasn’t satisfied congressmen such as Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, whose rural district covers about three-fourths of Nebraska. He said state inspectors already have the authority to inspect ranches and he isn’t sure the EPA’s flyovers are needed. He is co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, to prohibit the EPA from using farm flyovers to enforce the Clean Water Act unless the agency has written voluntary consent, provided public notice or obtained a court order.
The EPA conducted flyovers of West Virginia farms in 2010.