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 28, 2012
Roger Hedgecock: First they came for the timber industry
Now the radical enviros are after the gold miners of California and Oregon whose small suction dredges have worked gold bearing streams in the mountains for at least the last 50 years. In recent years they have proliferated with the increasing price of gold, but, those streams of northern California’s Sierra Nevada mountains were first worked by the pioneering forty-niners.
Today’s miners bring gold out of stream beds with a portable dredging device, operated by one or two miners. The dredging device consists of a 4 or 6 inch diameter nozzle powered by a small motor which traps heavy metals in a header box with riffles on its floor. The rocks and sand flow out the back of the box back into the stream bed.
This process removes not only the gold but the heavy non-native toxic metal detritus (horseshoes, nails, cans, etc) as well as mercury which was used by 19th century miners to extract the gold. All parties acknowledge that over 2.5 tons of mercury has been removed from California’s Sierra streams by the gold miners during the last 50 years.
At the urging of environmental groups and the Karuk indian tribe, who alleged damage to fish and fish habitat, the state of California placed a moratorium on suction dredging in 2009 to last until 2016.
A state Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was required before dredging could resume.
The 1,388 page EIR was issued on March 16, 2012 at a cost exceeding 1.5 million dollars. The EIR uses the words “may”, “might” or “could” more than 1,200 times while using the word “proven” not once. The EIR fails to document lasting damage to fish or fish habitat.
The disruption of the stream bed in some cases washed away safe areas for the fish to deposit eggs but in other cases increased sandy areas the fish use to spawn. But, the EIR found that whatever damage is done by the suction dredging is washed away in the spring floods and the streams repair themselves.
However, the EIR concludes that suction mining causes damage that cannot be mitigated by assuming that the streams are pristine and have never been mined before.
On April 12, multiple mining companies, property rights groups, and engineering firms sued the state alleging that the EIR was improperly drafted. Ironically, the environmental groups have also sued alleging that the EIR was not strong enough.
The same gold rush is running into environmental opposition in Oregon.
The Oregon Department of State Lands records over 3,000 active suction dredge miners. Environmental studies in Oregon indicate that the (not so dumb) fish avoid the “plume” of sand and rocks coming out of the back of the dredge and are not harmed. This has Oregon environmentalists up in arms demanding a California style moratorium.
Miners are fighting back asserting their rights federal mining law of 1872. The miners point out that they are not using heavy machinery or big bucket dredges that permanently alter the streams.
Back in California, the Fish and Game Department has proposed new regulations even though the moratorium on dredging won’t expire until 2016. After the moratorium expires, annual dredging permits would be reduced from 4,000 to 1,500 and dredging would be prohibited altogether on 20 northern California streams and rivers.
Other proposed regulations would prohibit transferring a suction dredge from one stream to another stream for two weeks to avoid “contamination”. Hours of dredging would be limited to 10am to 4pm and two dredges operating on the same stream must be at least 500 feet apart. After further public comment, dredges were banned from 7 more streams in Shasta County and 17 streams in Siskiyou County.
Here’s the weird twist to this story.
Environmental groups (there’s a “friends of” group for just about every river and stream in the Sierras) want the mercury recovery to continue. One of these groups, the Sierra Fund, has said that “dredging for mercury will require a permit with a chemistry background”.
A letter to the editor in the Grass Valley Union (a newspaper that traces back to the original 1850 gold rush) said that a dredge manufacturer in Idaho had been contacted by an organization associated with the EPA about making a dredge for recovering mercury. The letter writer asserts that this tax supported dredge will do the work the free market miners were willing to do for free.
And if some gold happens to collect in the riffles of this “mercury recovery” dredge, all the better for the environmental groups.
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please visit today.