Who owns the rain? That sounds like a silly question, but the answer may surprise you. If you live in Oregon, Oregon does.

So what does that mean in practice? Well, if you live in Oregon and dig a pond on your own property without a license, and the pond fills with rain water, the state now owns that water. Oh, and apparently you can go to jail if you decide to keep it.

An Oregon man was recently convicted, fined $1,500, and sentenced to 30 days in jail for illegally storing rain water on his property. Gary Harrington is going to spend time in jail because he dug three ponds on his property that were capturing rain water and snow runoff that the state of Oregon says would otherwise go somewhere else. (Did you notice how specific the alleged damages are?)

If you are reading this in Oregon next to your rain barrel worrying that you may be a criminal, fear not! Oregon graciously allows Oregonians to collect water from artificial impervious surfaces (rooftops, parking lots, etc.) and feed it directly into rain barrels. You’re probably thinking, “The benevolence is overwhelming.” (Not to mention the fact that Oregon lets people keep the fallen rain when it lands on their lawns and gardens.)

But if that water touches the ground, it is the property of the state of Oregon, and you cannot collect it without a permit. Since Oregon owns it, using it without permission would be a form of stealing.

Harrington has even attempted to get permits in the past for his ponds in order to reimburse the state for the rain they have so graciously allowed to fall on his property. The state initially granted the permits but then immediately revoked them and has ordered Harrington to drain his ponds.

The idea that the state owns the rain is ridiculous. The fact that the state enforces their “ownership rights” through criminal prosecutions is, if possible, more absurd. Is this a proper use of state resources? A proper allocation of time for the prosecutors? What about the resources they will be using by being in prison for 30 days? What about the money Harrington would otherwise be earning and paying taxes on?

This is a drain on society that needs to be “rained” in.