With stories of individuals facing legal consequences for their rainwater harvesting endeavors in some states, the idea of rainwater harvesting being an illegal activity has quickly gained traction across the internet.
But is it illegal to collect rainwater or have some of these stories been exaggerated?
The short answer is that rainwater harvesting is not illegal.
The longer answer is that there are no federal laws that restrict rainwater harvesting, and while there are some states that have strict regulations, most states allow their residents to collect rainwater freely.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the legality of rainwater harvesting and provide information on the specific laws for each state.
Is it Illegal to Collect Rainwater?
US citizens who want to set up a rainwater harvesting system on their property can do so without the fear of legal consequences provided that they adhere to their state's guidelines.
The Federal Government does not have any restrictions on rainwater harvesting.
Some states have regulations in terms of the amount of rainwater collecting and the means by which it is collected, but most states allow their citizens to collect rainwater freely while others even encourage it.
Some government restriction on rainwater harvesting is based on the rationale that it may disrupt the hydrologic cycle.
It's been believed that the collection of rainwater would halt the rainfall’s natural flow into the earth’s aquifers and streams. However, a study published by the Scientific World Journal shows that the amount of rainwater collected by individual homes would have little to no effect on the hydrologic cycle on a macro-level. In fact, since most collected rainwater would be used for gardening and household purposes, the water would eventually be returned to the ground anyway.
Other reasons for government restriction are based on old laws known as prior appropriation, which were implemented as a first-come, first-serve basis for settlers in the Old West.
Organizations such as the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) work with state governments in making rainwater collection an available option for its citizens.
Most states have shifted their laws in favor of private rainwater harvesting. Colorado, the state with arguably the strictest rainwater harvesting laws, passed a bill in 2016 allowing for the collection of rainwater with a 110-gallon maximum capacity.
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Rainwater Collecting Laws for Each State
Alabama: no regulation
Alaska: no regulation
Arizona: no regulation
Arkansas: some regulation
California: some regulation
Colorado: some regulation
Delaware: no regulation
Georgia: some regulation
Illinois: some regulation
Louisiana: no regulation
Massachusetts: no regulation
Mississippi: no regulation
Missouri: no regulation
Montana: no regulation
Nevada: some regulation
New Hampshire: no regulation
New Jersey: no regulation
New York: no regulation
North Carolina: some regulation
North Dakota: no regulation
Oklahoma: no regulation
Oregon: some regulation
Rhode Island: no regulation
South Carolina: no regulation
South Dakota: no regulation
Tennessee: no regulation
Texas: some regulation
Utah: some regulation
Vermont: no regulation
Virginia: no regulation
Washington: no regulation
West Virginia: no regulation
Wisconsin: no regulation
Wyoming: no regulation
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Energy.gov. (n.d.). Rainwater Harvesting Regulations Map | Department of Energy. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/eere/femp/rainwater-harvesting-regulations-map
Enlight Inc. (n.d.). Rainwater harvesting regulations state by state | Rain water harvesting and slow sand water filters. Retrieved from http://www.enlight-inc.com/blog/?p=1036
Find Law. (n.d.). Water Rights Law: Prior Appropriation - FindLaw. Retrieved from https://corporate.findlaw.com/business-operations/water-rights-law-prior-appropriation.html
NCBI. (2014, February 18). Sustainability of Rainwater Harvesting System in terms of Water Quality. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3948194/
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Pioneer Water Tanks. (2018, May 31). Is it illegal to collect rainwater in your state? Retrieved from https://pioneerwatertanksamerica.com/is-it-illegal-to-collect-rainwater-in-your-state/