As a person who lives off-grid I, like many others in my situation, understand just how important water is. In America there is a wide diversity of environments, consequently this valuable resource that is abundant in some areas is limited in others.
I am fortunate, in that I have a spring, a bore hole, and yet I just can’t let that infrequent rainwater flow away without capturing some of it.
However, when in 2012 Gary Harrington, a resident in Oregon was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $1500 for harvesting rainwater on his land rumors started to spread that it was illegal to collect rainwater.
Can it possibly be against the law to collect water that falls from the sky and flows from your guttering when it rains.
Is collecting rainwater illegal in America?
Collecting rainwater is not illegal according to federal law, however many states, have legislation that relates to water in general and more specifically how rainwater is collected and what it can be used for.
State legislation varies dramatically according to geographical location, climate, and the levels of water that are available. Some states encourage rainwater collection whilst others have restrictions.
Rainwater is a part of the ecosystem that provides the water that passes along rivers and streams into underground aquifers that create a supply that is available for everyone to use.
Water is such a valued resource it is also a commodity. Utility companies utilize the water from underground aquifers and reservoirs both natural and those that have been constructed to sell through a network of pipes that supply household and Industry.
The average household in America will consume in excess of 12 000 gallons per month and Industry consume huge quantities. Hence water utility companies gain huge revenue from this natural water that falls from the sky.
If we look at the specific case of Gary Harrington, it transpires that he collected 30 million gallons of water by building 20 ft high dams and reservoirs on his own property.
He was diverting the flow of water from watercourses that flowed through his property, and it was this that was illegal not the act of collecting rainwater.
To understand the complexities of collecting rainwater in the United States we need to look at each state to see what if any legislation is in place regarding the rights to harvest rainwater.
Alabama is one of the states that does not have any restrictions on collecting rainwater as it considers it the right of the property owner to collect the water that falls on the property. It does in fact encourage the collection.
The Alabama University published an extensive guide to demonstrate some very practical and technical instructions regarding the best ways to collect and store rainwater.
Alaska is also a state that does not have restrictions regarding rainwater, or perhaps it should be classed as snow. Due to the climate in Alaska it is difficult to establish a traditional water supply network.
Consequently, residents have only limited options available to them. Community water collection points are available as a water supply but manually collecting and transporting the water is difficult and can result in contamination.
It is far simpler and cost effective to collect rainwater on site. Environmental protection agencies studies show that rain water collected on site is a safe supply of unpolluted water.
The state of Arizona does not have any restrictions regarding collecting rainwater that falls on your own property. The state recognizes that with a dry climate and an increasing population that water resources are limited.
Consequently, they would prefer residents to collect rainwater to supplement existing supplies rather than collecting water from rivers or underground.
The University of Arizona have produced a comprehensive guide that provides information regarding how to build a rain water collection system.
Although the state of Arkansas is happy for residents to collect rainwater it does place restrictions on what the water can be used for and how it is collected.
Rainwater cannot be used for drinking, but it is fine for bathing cooking and of course irrigating gardens and crops. The state does also insist that any collection system be installed by a licensed professional who is able to install the system using the relevant installation codes.
Clearly the state has concerns regarding potential Health and Safety issues that an inadequately designed system could present.
Home owners in California can collect rain water from their roofs without any restrictions.
However, a landscape contractor who is providing a rain water collection system for a swimming pool, outside cooking facilities or a decorative water feature such as a pond or fountain is required to hold the necessary certificate of qualification as prescribed in the 2012 Rainwater Capture Act.
Any provision of this type of landscaping made by a homeowner or a non-licensed contractor would be considered illegal.
Historically Colorado had some of the strictest legislation regarding water and more specifically the collection of rainwater. The state has changed the legislation considerably in 2016 after a study showed that only 3% of water that fell as rain made its way into streams and underwater aquifers.
The 2016 legislation does however still impose several restrictions. The main restrictions specified in the legislation is that a maximum of two rain barrels holding 110 gallons in total can be stored. The water cannot be used for drinking only garden irrigation.
There is also a requirement for homeowners to use best practice as specified on the state website regarding control of disease and pests. It also suggests that any collection devise should be aesthetically pleasing to others in the community.
The residents of the state Connecticut also do not have any restrictions regarding the collection of rainwater and the state do encourage its collection by publishing a document that gives advice on the benefits of rainwater harvesting along with some very good suggestions on how to install a rain barrel in addition to the benefits of using this water.
Whilst Delaware state has extensive legislation regarding the installation operation and maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems it is legal to collect rainwater in this state.
In the past the state has encouraged the collection by organizing competitions based on the painting of rainwater barrels.
The state of Florida, recognizing the importance of good practice in utilizing water is proactive regarding the conservation and collection of water.
Some areas such as the county of Manatee offer various grants and other financial incentives for those who wish to install systems that assist with conservation.
This county does sell a rainwater harvesting collection system for home owners under its Rain Barrel Program with its policy to provide citizens with effective ways to implement water saving measures.
Rainwater harvesting in the State of Georgia is permitted providing it is only going to be used for irrigation purposes and not for any indoor purpose.
The state has extensive legislation regarding the installation of all plumbing equipment and services. Any system that is installed for rain water collection is governed by the state plumbing code, and must adhere to this code for it to be deemed legal.
Hawaii is another forward-looking state that does not discourage the collection of rainwater in its legislation policy.
In 2008 resolution 172 requested that each county conducted feasibility studies with regard to introducing programs to conserve water and actively encourage the installation of rain harvesting equipment as a part of this program.
The state recognized that its growing population and the geographical and geological situation of the state would almost certainly mean that demand would outstrip its resources within 10 years.
The report recognizes that rainwater collection already being utilized in country areas should be extended into residential communities.
The residents of Idaho are free to collect rainwater with certain provisos. Water that does not flow into a stream or river can be collected on private property providing it does not cause interfere with any existing water rights of other property owners.
Once the water reaches a natural water cause such as a stream or river it becomes the property of the state and cannot legally be diverted to any other storage facility or use.
The state of Illinois has a Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act that basically encourages a holistic environmental approach that uses green methods to control and maintain the natural environment within the state.
The act does encourage rainwater collection for use as garden irrigation as a part of the scheme. There is however other legislation within Illinois that requires the application and adherence to an energy policy statement that defines and restricts the location design and architectural requirements of any structure that is to be used for rain water harvesting.
Indiana recognizes the importance of collecting rainwater for use garden irrigation in that it reduces the reliance and usage of water that has been treated and supplied by utility companies.
It does supply some limited information on its website. There is no legislation that would make this activity illegal.
Iowa understands that as areas of impervious surfaces increase due to urban development run off from rainfall will cause an increasing risk of flooding and hence damage to water courses, and indeed buildings.
Traditionally the danger of flooding was reduced by the construction of storm drains. The state does however recognize that by encouraging individual homeowners to construct rain gardens the effects of flooding can be reduced further.
The state does therefore not place any restrictions on rain water collection and offers advice on how best to construct effective rain gardens.
The state of Kansas has several legislative measures in place to protect water resources so that it is available for its residents to enjoy. Any urban or commercial construction that has an effect on water sources or supply requires the necessary permit under the Kansas water appropriation Act.
However, a homeowner who wants to collect rainwater for use domestically on a property up to 2 acres is able to do so without the requirement to apply for a permit.
The residents of the state of Kentucky are free to collect rainwater and use as they like without any restrictions.
The state of Louisiana has no restrictions for rainwater harvesting for homeowners except if the water is to be used for drinking or is being sold.
The state categorizes the sale of polluted or impure water as illegal and stipulates that any cistern for collecting water for this purpose must have an adequate cover to protect the water.
Maine has invested heavily in adequate infrastructure to deal with storm water. The state does not have any restrictions regarding homeowners collecting rain water it does, however, encourage the installation of rain gardens as an addition resource to assist with this infrastructure.
This state has no restrictions regarding homeowners collecting rainwater. Some areas have rebate and reimbursement programs that reward and encourage the community for assisting in protecting and supplementing water resources.
It is legal to collect rainwater in the state of Massachusetts, and the state has a useful guide for obtaining and using Rain Barrels and other water conservation tools.
Although the state of Michigan has extensive regulations regarding many different aspects of water resources it does not legislate against homeowners harvesting rainwater.
Interestingly, there is concern that there is inadequate protection for groundwater from contamination from an estimated 160 000 leaking septic tanks and agricultural waste in the Michigan area.
The state of Minnesota recognizes that collecting rainwater in adequate systems can help to maintain and improve the watershed in the state by conserving water, reducing pollutants and consequently reducing the amount of energy used.
The state takes an inter-agency approach to develop and regulate water resources. It is legal to collect rainwater but there is extensive regulation that needs to be adhered to.
The state has on its website a Minnesota Stormwater Manual that forms the regulatory basis of the use and reuse of rainwater.
Mississippi has no regulations regarding the harvesting of rainwater making it perfectly legal to harvest rainwater in this state.
The state of Missouri has no legal objections to residents collecting rainwater and have produced an extensive guide, The Rainwater Harvesting Manual that details a great deal of information regarding the benefits and problems that can be encountered when trying to harvest rainwater.
It also provides extensive advice on how to build a variety of systems from a simple rain barrel to one that is incorporated into the structure of a property.
Montana has extensive legislation regarding water use in the state. The legislation is based around old historic water rights. The state considers that it owns all water in the state for the benefit of the residents of the state.
The residents do not own the water they use but have the right to use it. Much of the legislation pertains to water reservoirs and is administered by a water court.
The state does however provide guidelines for building and operating larger cisterns for storing water from rain or another source.
The state of Nebraska has no legislation to prevent the collection and use of rainwater. The University of Nebraska recognizes the importance of using rainwater to support water reserves when rain is not abundant.
Nevada, as one of the driest states recognizes that the supply of adequate water for its residents is finite and fragile at times. It has encouraged many measures that help to reduce wastage.
The state declares that water belongs to the people and that rainwater harvesting must be beneficial. The law requires anyone wishing to use water must have water rights.
Consequently, if an individual does not have water rights the collection of rainwater becomes illegal. Although this is the case there have never been any legal action taken against anyone who has collected rainwater.
The state of New Hampshire has no legislation to discourage rain water collection and does offer advice to encourage collection. The state considers that if individuals are harvesting rainwater it will help with the overall aim of reducing pollution and damage caused by rain.
New Jersey encourages individuals to collect rainwater. In 2016 it introduced a scheme that provided rebates and rewards up to $2 500 to those that participated in its program to conserve water and control storm water runoff.
With rain fall cycling between highs and lows over the past ten years, the state of New Mexico recognizes the importance of water conservation and the part that rainwater collection plays.
Many counties offer extensive information regarding why collection is important for now and the future. They also offer extensive information as to how best to harvest the water.
The state of New York is another proactive state, it permits and encourages the collection and use of rainwater with its Rainwater Harvesting Guide.
Recognizing the importance of managing water resources the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources offers support and advise to communities regarding best management practices for water conservation and efficiency including collecting rainwater.
The state of North Dakota has many laws, many of which date back to 1900s that relate to water and its usage. The state does not however legislate against the collection of rainwater.
Ohio is a state that does regulate against the collection of rainwater as it has health considerations for this water being used to supply drinking water to a certain number of people.
The public health authority can require the providers to be licensed and registered, and retain the right to inspect the facilities. For water that is to be used for agriculture or irrigation there is no need for registration.
When Oklahoma passed the Water for 2060 Act in 2012 it became the first state to declare an aim to be utilizing no more fresh water in 2060 than when the act was introduced in 2012.
Part of the act allowed grants to be made for those wishing to install water saving measures such as rain water collection. It must be said that at this time no more applications for grants are being accepted.
Although the use of rainwater harvesting in the state of Oregon does not require a permit, there are restrictions in place that dictate how collection should be implemented.
The state requires that water can only be collected from a rooftop catchment system. It will entertain other systems of water collection, but legal advice is best considered before undertaking any construction.
Pennsylvania is another state that does not regulate against the collection of rainwater and the University has a guide that covers the importance of water collection and helps with construction ideas.
To stimulate the interest in those wishing to collect rainwater Rhode Island introduced the House Bill 7070 in 2012 that provides tax incentives for those wishing to install a rainwater collection cistern.
The incentive is paid by means of an income tax credit and amounts to 10 % of the cost of installing the cistern.
It is legal to collect rainwater in South Carolina. The state encourages this practice and offers educational material to reinforce why this practice is essential to the environment and the state.
The state of South Dakota does have several statutes that relate to water rights in the state, but none of them relate to rainwater harvesting. It is therefore perfectly legal for anyone to collect rainwater for domestic use.
Rainwater collection in Tennessee is legal and incorporates advice on best practice in its Green Infrastructure Program.
Although it is legal to collect rainwater in the state of Texas the state does have several provisions that restrict how and where it is installed. Written notification of intended installation is also required.
With the House Bill 3391 the state offer’s encouragement for property developers to incorporate rainwater harvesting in house design. Financial incentives are available to encourage homeowners to implement this practice.
It is legal to harvest rainwater in the state. Registration is required to be able to store 2 500 gallons of water. Without registration, it is possible to use only 2 containers each containing no more than 100 gallons.
The registration is free and can be undertaken online in only a few minutes. Under the Rain Harvest Program, the state subsidizes the cost of rain barrels.
The state of Vermont has no legislation to prevent the collection of rainwater. Although there are various financial schemes for commercial enterprises involved in providing rainwater harvesting there is no assistance or support for individuals.
In 2001 the state of Virginia created an Alternative Water Supply Fund to provide incentives via tax credits for individuals who installed a rainwater harvesting system.
The state is also committed to develop and establish guidelines to conserve water and reduce the demands on tradition water supply systems.
The state of Washington does not legislate against the collection of rainwater for domestic users. The state also authorizes counties to provide rate relief in excess of 10% for those that make use of rooftop rain harvesting.
Residents of west Virginia are free to collect rainwater as they require. The West Virginia department of Environmental Protection invites residents to be an environmental stewards of their community with advice on how to build a rain barrel.
Wisconsin encourages its residents to conserve water for the community by planting rain gardens and installing rain barrels.
The state offers advice and links to other community projects that are using innovative schemes to help with conservation.
Wyoming has extensive historical water right laws that effect large scale or commercial usage of any water within the state.
However, domestic users are free to harvest water although there are restrictions as to how much ground water they can use.
Having assessed the legal situation regarding collecting rainwater in the individual states it is quite clear that this is a legal activity in America.
The differences in state legislation arise basically from how abundant water is in a state and the ecological importance that each state places on this resource.
The states that have legislation are attempting to protect water for the benefit of all and protect residents from health and safety issues.
The majority of states do recognize that the collection of rainwater by individuals is a valid practice that helps conserve water and protect the environment.
Three years ago, I bought an off-grid Cortijo in a small valley in the Andalucian mountains. This move was not really a planned decision to live of-grid, I just fell in love with the tranquil location. Although, perhaps the lifestyle is in my genes as my grandfather and his four brothers were Homesteaders in Alberta Canada in the 1900s. The mountains of Spain are a difficult place to grow many of the flowers that I was used to in the UK. However, veg grows well all year around peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, melons and chard all fare well in the Mediterranean climate. This year I aim to build a polytunnel that will extend my growing cycle and range of products. Almond trees provide me with a cash crop of around 1 ton whilst still retaining some to make almond milk and flour. The tranquil setting of this semi-remote location is mentally stimulating and inspiring both during the day and the night when in total darkness the visibility of the stars and planets are amazing.