Is Harvesting Rain Water Illegal in Your State?

Taylor Roatch
By Taylor Roatch May 18, 2018 07:24

Is Harvesting Rain Water Illegal in Your State?

It may be difficult to comprehend, but in many states, harvesting rain water, whatever the method, is highly regulated. It seems a little crazy that something that will literally fall on your head and soak into the ground couldn’t be gathered and used as you see fit, but there are several reasons for the rain water regulations that so many states have put into place.

Why Is Rain Water Harvesting Regulated?

For the most part, regulations surrounding rain water collection weren’t put into place because the average Joe was gathering a little rain off his roof using a guttering system and a rain barrel. The regulations are often more to protect the environment from large-scale rain water collection operations. However, it doesn’t mean that rain water collection is any more legal for individuals in some states.

When large amounts of rain water are diverted from where they would naturally flow, it can cause a lot of problems for the environment and for the people that rely on and have rights to those natural waterways. For instance, if large amounts of rain water are collected that would have run into a river that allows a farmer to water his crops and or a rancher to provide adequate water supplies for his cattle, issues can arise. Especially in places that frequently experience drought and problems with the water supply, these changes can wreak havoc.

History of Rain Water Regulation

The history of some rain water regulation laws in the United States goes back until at least the 1800s. Though large-scale collection wasn’t really feasible then, the idea that someone might cause ill effect on someone else by harvesting rain water was still an idea that was controversial in some places.

States with Rain Water Harvesting Laws

It’s important to note that, in many places where there are laws that regulate rain water collection, the degree to which the laws would affect the average homeowner vary a great deal. Some laws state that commercial collection is unacceptable, or that you can collect only so much rain water per year, or regulate the way you use collected rain water. Just because a state has laws regulating rain water collection doesn’t mean that it’s wholly illegal. Beyond state regulations, some cities also have specific rain water regulations in place, so be sure to check those out as well.

With that being said, here are the states that have rain water collection laws on their books with a short explanation for what those laws are like in each place.

Colorado

A few years back, harvesting rain water in Colorado was simply illegal in any capacity, but thanks to new laws passed in 2016, harvesting rain water for personal use is okay in most areas. People are allowed two barrels with a capacity under 110 gallons. Collected water can be used for non-potable purposes, like watering gardens.

California

California has a mass amount of regulation surrounding rain water collection due to severe droughts in much of the state, but home rain water collection is mostly legal.

Related: This Might Be the Only Solution to Californian Drought

Oregon

There was a big story that got a lot of attention on the internet a few years ago about a man that was arrested for illegally harvesting rain water in Oregon, leading people to assume that it was totally illegal there, but that’s not the case. The man in question was harvesting rain water illegally, but not all rain water collection is illegal. You need a permit in the state of Oregon to collect rain water on a large scale, but there’s also a regulation that states that it’s perfectly okay to collect rain water from surfaces like roofs or parking lots.

Texas

There are some regulations on the books surrounding rain water collection in Texas, but the practice as a whole is generally encouraged. The regulations merely cover some safety standards for harvested rain water. There are actually laws on the books protecting rain water collection in Texas.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma house bill 3055 established a committee to look into more efficient practices for water use and concluded that some potential rain water harvesting projects may be grant eligible.

Illinois

This is another state with a ton of regulation surrounding rain water harvesting, and the regulations are pretty prohibitive when it comes to a lot of rain water harvesting. However, there are allowances that mean rain barrels are okay and don’t need a permit under most circumstances so long as there is no component inside of a dwelling and it doesn’t need permits under any other regulations.

Ohio

There are laws regulating what harvested rain water can be used for in Ohio, but collecting rain water here is actually encouraged and grants may be provided to set up rain water collection systems. So long as you’re not trying to consume collected rain water, you’ve got nothing to worry about in Ohio!

Arizona

While there are regulations regarding commercial rain water harvesting in Arizona, there’s nothing on their books that pertains to residential collection.

North Carolina

The laws on the books in this state are actually to promote the harvesting of rain water, not deter people from it. There are grants available for projects, like rain water collection systems, that help make the best use of the state’s natural water resources.

Related: How to Make Your Own Distiller at Home To Filter And Desalinate Water

Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s law rewards residents for rain water collection with a 10% tax credit for the cost of their rain water collection system. Homeowners can get a credit of up to $1,000 for putting in a cistern or replacing a cistern with a larger one if they have not already received the tax credit. No rain water collection ban there, though!

Utah

Though collecting rain water isn’t totally illegal in Utah, it is still very regulated. Small systems that store under 100 gallons are allowed without registration. If you’re planning to collect rain water for personal use with more than 100 gallons of storage capacity, you’ll need to register your system, which includes letting the government know how much water you can store. You’re only allowed up to 2,500 gallons, and you may only use the water on the parcel of land where it was collected.

Washington

Though there is some regulation in Washington, it should be no problem, legally speaking, for the average citizen to collect rain water for their personal use.

Virginia

Virginia does have some usage regulations to make sure collected rain water is being used safely, but overall, rain water collection is encouraged in the state of Virginia.

The Final Word on the Legalities of Rain Water Harvesting

Though there is a lot of regulation surrounding rain water collection in many states, it’s not really outright illegal on a small scale anywhere. Do your due diligence and make sure you follow any regulations in your state, county, or city and you’ll be just fine.

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Taylor Roatch
By Taylor Roatch May 18, 2018 07:24
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26 Comments

  1. Labienus May 18, 10:32

    Its legal where I live. On average, I’ll have about 12 10 gallon buckets stored with rain water, and I keep 4 oil drums outside to help with crops in the summer.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Survived on my own May 18, 12:43

    I just want to know whether the states asked and or received a permit from the lord??! Screw em barrel up!!

    Reply to this comment
    • HateAndFearIsSin May 23, 12:53

      Actually, yes, the State DOES have a permit from the Lord, and you’d be wise to obey:
      “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God – and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation! For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute [taxes] also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom [is due]; fear to whom fear [is due]; honour to whom honour [is due].” -Romans 13:17

      Reply to this comment
      • vocalpatriot May 23, 22:07

        Hate and fear is sin? what else is sin? do you have a list?

        Reply to this comment
      • Robert June 4, 16:03

        HateAndFearIsSin, That may have been in Biblical times but not you or anyone else can tell me that God placed the Politicians we now have in office. Most all of them are crooked as a dogs hind leg and would Lie Cheat and Steal to stay in office and some of them would even murder to keep power. God would not put evil people n positions of power. Also they are not our “Leaders”, they are supposed to be our Servants! They need to be reminded of that!
        In your thinking, the founding fathers of this country were wrong because they rebelled against England.
        There are many in our Gov’t that are nothing more than tyrants, that think they are there to rule over us. But of course you think we should bow down to them like dogs with tails between their legs.

        Reply to this comment
  3. Wannabe May 18, 14:23

    I wonder if states will start regulating how much food you can or cannot grow in your garden. My goodness, register a cistern seems just ludicrous. California only allows 100 gallons. That’s not enough to water hardly anything if no rainfall in a month. And Ohio says you can’t drink it. Really? Lifestraw in one hand and fifty gallons in a drum and I’m thirsty you are darn right I will take a drink if I so please. I can see it now, sir if you take a drink of that water collected in a barrel from the rain I’m going to arrest you. Insane

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  4. Dupin May 18, 14:24

    In Texas, it’s legal and encouraged for residential and business and pretty much required for new governmental buildings. Many cities (at least in the DFW area where I live) teach rain harvesting, and even my son’s elementary school has rain harvesting in their native plant demonstration garden.

    Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck May 18, 15:17

    Our city encourages the use of grey water to water yard plants. No permit is required as long as the system is not plumbed into the house system. I have 2 inch pvc piping that is temporary. I have to put it together each time I use wash water to water the plants. I just move the washer drain hose from the sewer system to my 2 inch pvc system and let the water flow onto the plants. Do this during the summer time.

    Reply to this comment
    • vocalpatriot May 23, 22:17

      Remind me not to eat at your house >:P

      Reply to this comment
      • Miss Kitty May 23, 22:58

        Gray water isn’t sewage…it’s water that was used to maybe wash your hands or to do laundry. Anything with waste – human or animal – or with grease/food should go into the septic system or in the main sewage pipe to your city’s sewage treatment plant. Human and animal waste can be composted and used in gardens, but it can’t be used straight and human is banned in some areas.( Unless, apparently, you grow romaine lettuce!) =(@€==

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  6. Miss Kitty May 18, 16:52

    Standing water of any kind can serve as a breeding spot for mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies, so make sure your barrels have a good mesh topper to help keep bugs (and leaves,etc. ) out. Filter/treat before drinking, especially if collecting from roof runoff..bird poo =very sick.

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  7. PB- dave May 18, 19:12

    On the flip-side, here in the Peoples Republic of iLL-noise, some of the municipalities have resorted to crafty ways to generated revenue. Since run-off water can strain a storm sewer system, we just have to have a “Rain Tax”. If your residence is on a lot you’ll notice a factor for storm sewer charge on your water & sewer bill…. bigger lot, bigger charge. If you have a commercial property with a large roof and parking lot, you are charged a larger factor for run-off water……..

    Reply to this comment
    • Dupin May 18, 20:35

      Yep. Many municipalities do that as part of your water/sewage fees, since maintaining storm sewers costs money. They do that as a discrete fee rather than hiding it other general fees and taxes like others have done. And of course, the proportional nature of it really does make a lot of sense. I don’t want to pay the same amount as someone who has 10 acres.

      Reply to this comment
      • PB- dave May 19, 00:27

        Funny tho, how the cost just became an issue when the budgets became issues….. Most Sanitary and storm sewer systems are separate, and the storm sewers empty into watersheds (4 main ones in IL). Many creeks or ditches are on private property or hiways and are maintained with private or road funds. And most counties require new developments to have roads/curbs/storm sewers in place before they can sell a lot. But it’s only a few dollars a year on the prop tax assessment…… Wait until they make you have a permit for food gardening, like some have for having chickens or rabbits. Living outside city limits has it’s advantages 🙂

        Reply to this comment
        • IvyMike May 19, 01:18

          Standard design for a municipal sewage system is for it to overflow into the storm sewer system during periods of heavy rain. Back when Tampon applicators were pretty pink and plastic the shores of White Rock Lake in the middle of Dallas would be covered with them after a good rain. That said, I live in the country, our water district built an extensive natural wetland system to filter sewage coming down from Dallas and it supplies 40% of our tap water. Pretty cool, a good thing to check out on line is natural swimming pools or swimming ponds, instead of treating the water you build your own ecosystem into the pool to keep the water clean and clear.

          Reply to this comment
          • Miss Kitty May 19, 02:09

            Excellent suggestion! If it works to filter a major metro area’s crud it would likely work for farm run off as well. 🙂

            Reply to this comment
      • Wannabe May 19, 01:00

        Scum devising ways to rob you through legislation

        Reply to this comment
      • suemarkp May 19, 03:23

        Lot size shouldn’t matter near as much as impervious surface size. Land with grass or trees should act as a sponge and suck up the water unless its already saturated (or all clay). Parking lots, buildings, and even gravel roadways will always let water runoff. You should get a bonus if you can contain it (retention pond, tanks).

        Reply to this comment
        • Dupin May 20, 21:07

          This is true about impervious surface, but for residential they seem to base it as an average percentage of lot size, or they base it on your water usage during the growing months of the year. Assumption is that you use about the same amount inside year-round, but the additional usage is all outdoors, on your yard and pool and such, and that excess in my town is what is calculated in the bill. I don’t know about commercial. Most municipalities in my area now require any new building…subdivisions or commercial…to include detention areas, wet or dry, to collect and slow excess rain water as it’s incorporated downstream.

          Reply to this comment
  8. Rydaartist May 19, 06:39

    There is something else you have not mentioned, that is disease because of the mosquitoes. Yellow fever nails no Siri that is There is something else you have not mentioned, that is disease because of the mosquitoes. Yellow Fever, West Niles to name 2. Standing water improperly stored can hatch thousands of insects. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

    Reply to this comment
  9. CarmenO May 19, 10:47

    If people pay attention, most states that regulate the collection of water, do so because the states gets little rain and if you allow people to collect all the water they want, you will end up with huge conglomerates collecting millions of gallons. Of course, some go to extremes. By the way, Utah even regulates the gray water from your house. They are worse than they sound, but Utah is a desert. My state, doesn’t regulate, but does provide much of the (real) water that flows down the Mississippi. After it leaves the northern part of the state, I don’t recommend people drink it, without purifying it. I live within walking distance to the river, not dying of thirst.

    Reply to this comment
  10. mtnman May 19, 17:21

    You do not mention a lot of states like mine, New Mexico, where rainwater catchment is not only legal but common practice. In fact, both my home and business locations are 100% supplied by rainwater for all uses and I specialize in selling and installing rainwater systems all over the West. Colorado’s laws are messed up because high dollar agriculture and developers own most of the water rights. There are many resources and organizations that have great info on rainwater harvesting. Last note – the picture shows a white translucent tank. Dark tanks are always preferred for above ground collection as the translucent ones are prone to grow algae.

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