Who Own’s the Rainwater?

In a recent 4 part series I discussed the most common permits required in construction.  The article discusses several key facts about zoning approvals, plan reviews, and constriction permits, but what about less common permits?

In an article published December 26, 2016 we learn of a couple who are being forced by Oregon State officials to drain an existing pond on their property.

Their troubles began when they filed for a permit to grow marijuana on their land and cited the pond as their source for irrigation.  The pond which was put in place by the previous homeowner had never been permitted and the state ordered it to be removed.

This story prompted me to research the topic of private ponds and rainwater collection.  My research led me to another controversial story also in Oregon about a man named Gary Harrington.  Gary’s battle began in 2002 when he filed for a permit to build a pond.  Gary was initially granted the permit (according to him) and later had the permits rescinded (no details on why).

Gary decided that he would disregard the government and proceeded to build the ponds anyway.  Over 10 years of legal battling with the state, Gary persisted.  He built dams and diverted waterways onto his land to create his ponds.  Ultimately Gary collected 13 million gallons of water in his property.  The story that made the headlines failed to acknowledge that Gary was using dams to divert water to his property.  Instead they reported that he was in a battle over rainwater collection.

Gary’s tale is an extreme example, but the lesson to be learned is straightforward.  Before you take on any work on your home or business be sure to know the regulations of your jurisdiction.  These regulations are subject to change and it behooves you to consult a professional to help you determine which regulations apply to you.

Such regulations are not limited to our neighbors in western states.  There are 17 US states with regulations governing the rights of individuals to collect rainwater.  Most allow some amount of water collection, but all restrict Owners from altering waterways (the laws that Mr. Harrington violated).

The National Conference of State Legislatures lists the regulations for these 17 states here, but be sure to check local regulations as well before you take this for granted.

For Mr. Harrington, his story ended with him serving 90 days in jail and paying $1500 in fines.  He was also forced to drain his ponds.  Given the negative media already received by Oregon’s water conservation regulations, the Oregon couple looking to grow weed on their property are also likely to lose their battle.

For you, I hope you take heed of these stories and be sure you are not violating any regulations.

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