It is no doubt that rainwater harvesting is an excellent means of conserving water and reducing utility costs. By simply installing a system which collects a naturally occurring resource, one could utilize the earth’s hydrological cycle to their own benefit.
With instances 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?
In this article, we’ll uncover the truth about the legality of rainwater harvesting and provide information on the specific laws for each state.
Is it Illegal to Collect Rainwater?
Most US citizens who want to setup a rainwater harvesting system in their backyard can do so without the fear of legal consequence. The Federal Government does not have any restrictions on rainwater harvesting. Some states have minor 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 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. At this rate, it is likely that most states will trend towards favoring rainwater collection, and it is highly unlikely that the federal government will enforce any restriction.
Read our relate article: Which Rain Barrels are Less Likely to Leak?
Rainwater Collecting Laws for Each State
While rainwater collecting is Federally legal, it is worth observing the state regulations, if any, for limitations and methods of collecting. The information gathered for this article was taken from state websites and legislative documents and was current at the time of publication. We will do our best to keep this list updated. But because laws are constantly changing, please check with your state for further information.
The State of Alabama considers rainwater harvesting a private property right. There are currently no regulations for rainwater harvesting in the state. In fact, Alabama A&M and Auburn University extension services published a document encouraging the practice of rainwater collection, providing technical instructions and guidelines.
The State of Alaska does not restrict rainwater harvesting as it is a primary source of water for many residents. Groundwater harvesting, however, is regulated and can be purchased as a water right. Due to the cold climate, special conditions may need to be considered when collecting rainwater in Alaska.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Arizona. Two House Bills, 2363 and 2830, support this. House Bill 2363 establishes a joint legislative study committee on macro-harvested rainwater, allowing for the study and evaluation of scientific data, costs and benefits, and potential impact on water rights. House Bill 2830, through the Department of Water Resources, allows for a city or town to establish a fund for rainwater harvesting systems.
The State of Arkansas allows for rainwater harvesting with some minor restrictions. According to Arkansas Code Annotated § 17-38-201 (2014), the State Board of Health “shall allow the use of a harvested rainwater system used for a non-potable purpose if the harvested rainwater system is: (1) designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas; (2) is designed with appropriate cross-connection safeguards; and (3) complies with Arkansas Plumbing Code.”
In 2012, the State of California passed Assembly Bill 1750, which enacted the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012, making it legal to collect rainwater so long as in compliance with the California State Water Resources Board requirements. The Bill states that residential, commercial and governmental landowners may install, maintain, and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems for specified purposes.
Colorado has traditionally been one of the most restrictive states for rainwater harvesting. Two laws were passed in 2009 which loosened restrictions on rainwater collection, allowing residents to use rainwater for non-potable purposes. In 2016, House Bill 16-1005 was passed, allowing residents to collect rainwater from a catchment system on their rooftops into two rain barrels, with a combined capacity of 110 gallons. The collected rain must be used on the property where it is collected and may only be used for outdoor purposes such as lawn irrigation and gardening.
The State of Connecticut currently does not have any restrictions on rainwater harvesting. In fact, a document released by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental protection encourages its citizens to collect rainwater.
The State of Delaware does not have any laws prohibiting rainwater collection but in fact sponsors incentive programs encouraging it.
Rainwater collection is highly encouraged in the State of Florida with tax incentives and rebate programs being offered by several local municipalities including Manatee County.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Georgia but closely regulated by the Department of Natural Resources in the Environmental Protection Division. According to their plumbing code, rainwater harvesting is legal as long as it is used for outdoors only.
The State of Hawaii does not have any restrictions on rainwater harvesting but in fact highly encourages it. Overseen by the Department of Health and Safety, Senate Concurrent Resolution 172 encourages county water boards to study and promote rainwater collection.
Idaho does not have any regulations on rainwater capture except for rainwater which has entered natural waterways.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Illinois but with two major statutes. The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act which relates to water conservation, efficiency, infrastructure, and management while promoting rainwater harvesting. House Bill 991 (2011) amended the Homeowners’ Solar Rights Act. It requires that within 120 days after a homeowners’ association, the association shall adopt an energy policy statement regarding: (i) the location, design, and architectural requirements of solar energy systems; and (ii) whether a wind energy collection, rain water collection, or composting system is allowed, and, if so, the location, design, and architectural requirements of those systems.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Indiana. The State government encourages the act of rainwater collection and even has useful information on their website.
Iowa has no regulations on rainwater collection. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides information on stormwater on their website.
Kentucky does not have any restrictions on rainwater collection. Information on how to construct a rain barrel can be found on their website.
Rainwater collection is legal in Louisiana, however, there are statewide statutes requiring covers for large cisterns.
There are no regulations for rainwater harvesting in the State of Maine. Some cities such as Portland, issue stormwater fees to pay for improved stormwater systems for the city.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Maryland. Certain counties and institutions offer incentives for rainwater collection.
Rainwater harvesting is legal and encouraged by the State of Massachusetts.
Under the Cost Effective Governmental Energy Use Act, rainwater harvesting, along with other cost-efficient procedures, is legal and encouraged in the state of Michigan.
Rainwater harvesting is legal and encouraged in the State of Minnesota.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in the State of Mississippi.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Missouri and highly encouraged.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Montana and highly encouraged.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Nebraska and is in fact promoted by many Universities.
Nevada passed NB74 in June 2017, allowing for the collection of rainwater under the grant of a water right. Water rights must be used for its intended purpose or risk being revoked. Assembly Bill 198 states the Legislative Committee on Public Lands will conduct studies on water conservation and alternative sources of water for communities in the State. This includes a comprehensive review of alternative sources of water, including capturing rainwater amongst other things.
Rainwater harvesting is completely legal in New Hampshire and is in fact encouraged by the state.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in New Jersey. Assembly Bill 2442 requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a Capture, Control, and Conserve Reward Rebate Program, which will use funds appropriated for water conservation to provide rebates for property owners who implement eligible water capture, control or conserve techniques on their property.
Rainwater harvesting is legal and highly encouraged in the State of New Mexico.
Rainwater harvesting is legal, encouraged, and even taught in the State of New York.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in North Carolina, however, there are two laws regulating it. House Bill 609 (2011) says that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will provide statewide assistance on water efficiency and will ensure best management practices for conservation, which include water reuse and harvesting rainwater. Senate Bill 163 (2014) recognizes the benefits of rainwater for the future water supply of the state.
While North Dakota does have some strict laws regarding other water sources, rainwater harvesting is legal and encouraged.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Oklahoma. Under House Bill 3055, the Water for 2060 Act initiates grants for water conservation projects, to serve as models for other communities in the state. These projects may include community conservation demonstration projects, recycling and reuse of water, and information campaigns on capturing harvested rainwater.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Oregon, but may only be collected from a catchment system on rooftop surfaces. The state gives some approval for alternate methods of construction of rainwater harvesting systems, but legal advice should be sought before attempting to construct any system on private property.
Rainwater collecting is legal in Pennsylvania and is in fact encouraged by State Universities.
Rhode Island provides incentives for those who harvest rainwater. House Bill 7070 (2012) creates a tax credit to individuals or businesses for the installation of a cistern to collect rainwater. A state income tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of installing the cistern is credited to those who participate. A cistern is defined as a container holding fifty or more gallons of diverted rainwater or snow melt, either above or below ground.
It is completely legal to harvest rainwater South Carolina, and is in fact encouraged by the state.
While South Dakota does have quite a few statutes on water rights, rainwater harvesting is completely legal.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Tennessee. SB 2417 / HB 1850 (Enacted) allows for the use of green infrastructure practices which includes rainwater harvesting systems.
It is legal to harvest rainwater in Texas. There are several provisions in House Bill 3391 which should be noted, such as the requirement the catchment system being incorporate into the design of the building and the requirement to give a written notice to the municipality.
The State of Utah authorizes the direct collection of rainwater on land owned or leased by the person responsible for the collection. According to Senate Bill 32 (2010), a person registered with the Division of Water Resources cannot store more than 2,500 gallons of rainwater. If unregistered, no more than two containers may be used, and the maximum capacity of any one container may not exceed 100 gallons (Utah Code Ann. §73-3-1.5)
Rainwater collection is legal in the State of Vermont.
Senate Bill 1416 (2001) established the Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund, providing an income tax credit to those who install rainwater harvesting systems. The State of Virginia also requires the development of rainwater harvesting guidelines to reduce demands on water supply systems and to promote conservation (Va. Code § 32.1-248.2).
Rainwater collection is legal in the State of Washington and even authorizes counties to reduce rates for stormwater control facilities that utilize rainwater harvesting, by 10 percent or more according to Wash. Rev. Code §36.89.080. The Washington Department of Ecology issued an Interpretive Policy Statement clarifying that a water permit is not required for rooftop rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in West Virginia.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Wisconsin.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Wyoming.
Rainwater collection is a great way to conserve water and is legal in most states. The few states that do have regulations are fairly easy to comply with while still being able to collect a usable amount of water. Due to the shifting climate of legislation, please always double check with your state legislature for the most recent laws.
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