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Jackson County officials initially granted Gary Harrington "permits" to build ponds back in 2003. Yes, in Oregon you actually need to beg for permission from the government just to have a pond on your own land. But the state of Oregon revoked his permits a few years later, after he had already created the ponds, thus putting Harrington in the position of being a "water criminal" who was "stealing" rainwater from the state.
Tom Paul, administrator of the Oregon Water Resources Department, is an obedient water Nazi. He insists, "Oregon law that says all of the water in the state of Oregon is public water and if you want to use that water, either to divert it or to store it, you have to acquire a water right from the state of Oregon before doing that activity."
What he means, of course, is not that the water is "public" water, but that it's government water. The government owns it, and if you "steal" from the government by, for example, damming up rainwater runoff from your own land, you will go to jail.