Solved! Is it Illegal to Collect Rainwater?
Many states have restrictions on collecting rainwater, while others offer incentives for doing so. This state-by-state guide will help you understand the rules of rainwater harvesting .
Q: We just purchased our first home and moved clear across the country. It’s dry out here, and I’d love to collect rainwater to use for my garden but I’m wondering: Is it illegal to collect rainwater?
A: Kudos to you on your new home—and for hoping to practice conservation by collecting and reusing rainwater. Water is, after all, a precious resource, so why waste what comes pouring out of the sky for free? While rainwater collection is legal in every state in the nation, many states and municipalities do have restrictions on the practice. Other states—particularly those out west with dry climates—encourage rainwater collection, also known as called rainwater harvesting, because it eases the burden on local water systems. Your state may even offer incentives for rainwater harvesting!
Rainwater collection regulations generally seek to control the amount of water that can be collected, the method of collection, and the intended use of the water. Bottom line? Check with your local authorities to determine what, if any, restrictions are in place, since if you fail to follow the rules, you may face consequences, such as fines or even jail time. Right now, read on to understand the reasons for restrictions on collecting rainwater.
Restrictions on rainwater harvesting in the United States date back to the California Gold Rush of 1848 to 1855.
Miners often used high-pressure water systems to displace rock and dirt in the search for gold. This process of hydraulic mining requires water that’s scarce in areas of California, so miners began creating waterways to direct water their way—water that wasn’t technically on their land. This led to a “first come, first served” doctrine, where as long as miners could prove that the water was from a natural source and being put to beneficial use, they had rights to it. This policy of prior appropriation and subsequent laws have changed over the years, and some states that restricted rainwater collection now encourage it.
The prime reason for rainwater collection regulation is to protect your health.
Most states allow people to harvest rainwater on their residential and/or commercial properties for non-drinking purposes, such as watering the lawn. But for your safety, there may be strict rules against harvesting water for drinking, as rainwater can contain harmful substances, such as animal feces, E.Coli, and pesticides. If you intend to use collected rainwater for drinking and other human consumption purposes such as cooking or showering, you’ll need to ensure that your setup complies with state or local government policies for filtering the water.
Some states and towns may have regulations on the amount of rainwater you may harvest.
Collection amount regulations are in place because any rainwater you harvest is rainwater that won’t go into nearby streams, ponds, and other natural bodies of water—and that has the potential to disrupt ecosystems. The rainwater collection amount that states with restrictions allow can vary: Colorado allows only a total of 110 gallons, while Illinois permits rainwater harvesting of up to 5,000 gallons without a permit for residents.
Some states and towns may have regulations on the rainwater collection method.
Rain barrels hold approximately 55 gallons of water and are typically designed to catch water from downspouts. A cistern is a tank that can hold much more—up to 10,000 gallons. While both are popular rainwater collection vessels, approval for use will depend on your state. Rain barrels are typically approved and unregulated (except for in Colorado, where they are regulated), while cisterns may require a professional engineer or plumber to design the system to ensure the water is properly harvested and filtered for use.
Check with your state’s department of agriculture, health department, or water board for rainwater harvesting regulations to avoid legal consequences.
Laws regarding rainwater collection are subject to change as the climate changes and drought becomes more of a concern. The plumbing code for each state—which some states use to regulate domestic rainwater collection—can also change. Since rainwater collection isn’t regulated by federal law, it’s important to stay current on your local guidelines. Consider the rainwater collection regulations in the following states.
- Arkansas: It’s permissible to collect rainwater in Arkansas for non-drinking purposes only. The collection system must be designed by a licensed professional engineer in the state of Arkansas and comply with Arkansas Plumbing Code. The system must also include appropriate cross-connection safeguards to avoid contaminating other water sources.
- California: You can collect rainwater in California without a permit thanks to the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. However, use of collected water must abide by requirements set forth by the California State Water Resources Control Board. If you intend to use rainwater for ponds or irrigation purposes, you must apply for a license through the board.
- Colorado: Though Colorado formerly restricted rainwater collection, the practice is now legal statewide provided that residents use only two rain barrels with a maximum capacity of 110 gallons. Harvested water must also be used only on the property from which it was collected and is restricted to non-potable uses, as the state has ruled that residential rainwater collected from rooftops is unsafe to drink.
- Georgia: It’s permissible to collect rainwater in Georgia for non-potable uses—and for drinking provided that the system complies with your local county’s requirements. This means the water must be collected in an approved reservoir and pass through a filtration system, among other requirements.
- Illinois: Collecting rainwater in Illinois is legal for non-drinking purposes as long as the collection system complies with the Illinois Plumbing Code. This states, in part, that rainwater collected for a commercial use such as irrigation, or that exceeds 5,000 gallons, requires approval from the Department of Public Health to ensure the collection system is in compliance.
- Kansas: Rainwater collection for domestic use is allowed in Kansas without a permit, for livestock, pasturelands, or up to two acres of lawn and garden. However, for commercial irrigation and other purposes, a permit for rainwater harvesting must be obtained through the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
- Nevada: Collecting rainwater in Nevada required no permits until 2017, but now harvesting is legal for homeowners with certain restrictions. The water must be solely for domestic use and cannot be used for drinking.
- North Carolina: Rainwater collection in North Carolina is regulated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The state regulates non-potable use of rainwater harvesting for outdoor irrigation and for plumbing use, such as for flushing toilets.
- Ohio: Ohio allows rainwater collection for both potable and non-potable uses, as overseen by the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency. There are rules in place for private water systems that use cisterns for collecting rainwater for domestic use, including family dwellings, small businesses, barns, and campgrounds.
- Oregon: Rainwater collection in Oregon is regulated by the Water Resources Department. Only roof surfaces can be used to collect water, and the water is allowed for drinking with the proper filtration system in place.
- Utah: Collecting rainwater in Utah is regulated through the Division of Water Rights. Collectors are permitted a maximum capacity of 2,500 and must register for approval to capture and store precipitation under the Utah Division of Water Rights.
Some states encourage rainwater collection—and even offer tax incentives, discounted rain barrels, and/or grants for doing so.
The states below offer certain incentives for rainwater harvesting, but collection practices must meet the requirements for the incentives as designated by the state or county. Remember, if you intend to utilize the water for drinking, a filtration system is crucial and the type of system may be regulated by your county, so check local laws before investing in a system.
- Delaware: Delaware has no restrictions regarding rainwater collection for residents. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control offers incentives for collecting rainwater, such as discounted rain barrels.
- Florida: Florida has no restrictions on collecting rainwater, and many counties offer incentives for doing so, such as through the Water Saving Incentive Program (WaterSIP). Since 2003, the WaterSIP has allocated $3.8 million to public and private entities, helping to save an estimated 2.3 billion gallons of water a year.
- Maryland: Maryland has no restrictions on rainwater collection and some counties offer incentives. Prince George’s County, for instance, offers rebates through the Rain Check Rebate Program for collected water. For residential properties, rain barrels must collect 50 gallons for a rebate of $2 per gallon or up to $4,000. For commercial properties, the barrels must hold 100 gallons and the rebate is capped at $20,000.
- New Jersey: New Jersey has no restrictions on rainwater collection and offers such incentive programs for residents as the Capture, Control, and Conserve Reward Rebate Program. Rebate limits are $2,500 for residential properties and $10,000 for commercial properties.
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma recently passed the Water for 2060 Act, establishing a goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than was consumed in 2010. The act utilizes education and incentives to encourage residents to conserve water to meet its goals, one of which is encouraging the use of rain barrels.
- Louisiana: The state of Louisiana does not restrict the collection of rainwater for residents. In fact, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources encourages the practice of harvesting rainwater for outside uses.
- Texas: You can legally collect rainwater in Texas and may receive tax incentives for doing so. Rainwater harvesting in Texas is regulated by the Water Development Board. Rainwater harvesting equipment is exempt from sales tax and property taxes.
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island has no restrictions on rainwater collection and offers tax incentives for the practice. Homes and businesses are entitled to a tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of installing a cistern to collect rainwater, not to exceed $1,000. The cistern must also hold at least 50 gallons to qualify for the credit.
- Virginia: Rainwater collection is encouraged in Virginia. The state’s Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund offers grants to businesses and individuals to help sustain rainwater collection methods.
- Washington: While there’s no permit required to collect rainwater in Washington State, there are a few regulations. You must collect rainwater only on your property and only from a structure that has another use besides collecting rainwater (for example, your home or business). If you plan on using the water for drinking, you must check with your county for possible further restrictions. As an incentive, some cities in Washington State may reduce stormwater utility fees for commercial properties that use rainwater collection systems.