Green recovery of rainwater in a garden.

It Is Illegal to Collect Rainwater in These States

It is no longer entirely illegal to harvest rainwater in any of the 50 states. However, there are some states that still have certain laws restricting how, where, and when you can collect and reuse rainwater. Moreover, you should take advantage of using rainwater in your daily life as much as you can because it is simple, legal, and good for both you and the planet.

If you are worried about safety concerns related to using rainwater, you can always filter it to ensure safety. Before getting started, make sure that you know your state’s rainwater rights!

Rainwater harvesting during Monsoon season

Rainwater harvesting is collecting rainwater that falls on a structure or other impervious surface (a roof, for example) in order to store it for later use.

Why is it Illegal to Collect Rainwater?

The United States federal government does not at this time have any laws regarding collecting rainwater.  However, there are currently laws in certain states that restrict rainwater collection in some way. While these laws might seem silly or unreasonable, the root of many of these laws can be traced back to more than one hundred years ago.

From 1948 to 1955, thousands of Americans and foreigners flocked to California to try their chances at striking gold.  At the time, one of the most popular mining methods used was hydraulic mining.  In hydraulic mining, high-pressure water jets are used to dislodge rocks and move sediments around in order to sift for gold.

However, this type of mining became challenging considering that much of California is very dry and water is scarce in many places.  This led to miners digging waterways that would divert rainwater from other areas of the state towards their mines.  Ultimately, this led to issues because others complained that the miners were taking water from land that didn’t belong to them and using it for themselves.

This idea of “stealing water” led to the formation of many different rainwater harvesting laws, including some called the prior appropriation of water rights.  Many sentiments from these early laws still influence some of today’s existing laws.  Most of the laws are in regards to:

  1. Method of rainwater harvesting
  2. Amount of rainwater harvested
  3. Safety of using rainwater

These days, most laws don’t completely block the use of rainwater but are preventative safety and conservation measures. Therefore, go ahead and use harvested rainwater as you like!

How to Harvest Rainwater

There are a couple of ways that you can easily harvest rainwater.  Some require that you buy new equipment, but for others, you can use tools that you probably already have at home.

1. Rainwater barrels: Rainwater barrels collect water off the roof of your house via its gutter system.  The precipitation falls from the catchment and into the barrel.  From there, the water from the barrel can be transferred into buckets and used throughout your house and yard. This is probably the most common way to harvest water.  You can find the barrels at your local hardware store and most are easy enough to install yourself. 

2. Rainwater collection systems: A much flashier system than barrels, collection systems are installed underground and collect the rainwater that sinks into the ground.  The water can then be pumped from underground water supply systems called cisterns. Unlike the barrels, these rainwater harvesting systems require professional installation and are much pricier. 

3. Buckets: The most practical and least expensive of all the methods, take buckets that you already have at home and use them to collect rainwater.  To get water the fastest, try placing the buckets underneath your gutter.  

10 Uses for Rainwater Collection

Collecting rainwater is good for you and the environment.  It can save you money and reduce your household water consumption. Rainwater is safe and good to use in numerous areas of your daily life.  Everything from washing clothes to watering plants can be done with rainwater. 

Additionally, for some people, rainwater can also be used in cooking and as drinking water. Although there is nothing inherently dangerous about consuming rainwater, some experts recommend that you steer clear of it.  In particular, if you live in an area full of air, water, and land pollution, do not drink or cook with rainwater. 

Pollutants in your area can contaminate the rainwater and make it unsafe to consume.  If you live in an area with little pollution, check with local health officials before drinking it and always be sure to filter the water for extra safety.  Even if you don’t drink or cook with rainwater, you can still find a plethora of other ways to make use of it. 

1. Car Washing 

No matter the quality of the rainwater in your area, you’ll never hurt your car if you choose to wash it with collected rainwater.  Collect water in buckets or barrels and use it to wet your car and then rinse the soap off.  If you live in a warm climate, this can make a fun year-round activity!

2.Fill Fountains or Fish Ponds

If you have a fountain or decorative pond in your yard, then fill it with rainwater.  Nobody will ever see a difference and your fountain will look just as fancy. 

3. Irrigation or Sprinkler System

If you have an at-home irrigation or sprinkler system to water your yard, try filling it up with rainwater.  Your grass will look green and you’ll stimulate the water cycle by returning your collected water into the ground. 

4. Watering Plants

watering plants

Whether indoors or outdoors, all plants can be watered with rainwater.  Just take your collected water and use it to fill your watering can. 

5. Rinsing Vegetables

Once you’ve confirmed that it’s okay to use rainwater with food, go ahead and use it to rinse off your fruits and vegetables.  Use it with an organic fruit or vegetable spray in order to make sure they’re totally clean. 

6. Giving Pets a Bath

Another fun activity for the warmer months of the year, give your dog a bath outside using collected rainwater.

7. Washing Clothes

If you also want to save on your energy bill, skip the washing machine and opt for washing your clothes by hand.  It is totally safe for your clothes and will work just like the water in your washing machine.  Also, washing machines require a ton of energy to operate, so you’ll most likely see a drop in your monthly energy bill if you wash by hand!

8. Composting

You’ve probably already heard that composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills.  However, have you ever heard of compost tea before?  Make your own compost tea with rainwater and use it to organically fertilize your plants. 

9. Flushing the Toilet

You may not be willing to use rainwater to flush your toilet when you already have a convenient, traditional toilet at home.  But, if you’re ever on a camping trip and don’t have access to a normal flushing toilet, you can use rainwater to flush.

10. Filling a Humidifier

For those who live in dry climates, humidifiers can be a lifesaver.  Before going to the sink to fill yours up, try using your harvested rainwater. 

States Where There are Restrictions on Collecting Rainwater

Laws in each of these states are constantly changing.  Therefore, be sure to regularly check with your state’s laws to see if they’ve changed or updated restrictions regarding rainwater harvesting. 

non potable water truck

While non-potable water is not safe to drink, it is still a valuable resource and perfect for irrigating plants that don’t produce food.

1. Arkansas 

Restrictions on rainwater collection in Arkansas are primarily in regards to non-potable water.  Non-potable water refers to water that is used for things other than drinking or cooking.  Potable water is water that is used for drinking or cooking.  Sometimes, governments restrict the use of using rainwater for consumption out of fear that it may contain unsafe contaminants.

Moreover, the rules specify that you can use water for things other than drinking.  This is due to concerns over the safety of drinking the water in Arkansas. Additionally, the state requires that the harvesting system be:

  • Designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas
  • Designed with the right cross-connection safeguards
  • In compliance with Arkansas plumbing codes

As long as you use the water for non-potable uses and ensure that your collection system is properly installed, then you can feel free to collect rainwater in Arkansas.

2. California

Collecting rainwater was illegal in California until 2012.  This was due to concerns over the hoarding of water which can present challenges in a state that gets little rain.  Today, thankfully, it is legal with some minor restrictions. These days, the only restrictions in California in regards to rainwater collection surround creating water reserves.

For example, if you are collecting a large water supply to fill a swimming pool, hot tub, pond, or large fountain, the state requires your landscaper to get a permit to do so.  This law helps prevent large reserves of rainwater from being taken out of the water cycle in order to prevent droughts. 

3. Colorado

For years, Colorado had some of the strictest rainwater collection laws.  Today, many of those restrictions have been loosened. If you want to collect rainwater now, you can do so but only up to 110 gallons at a time from a maximum of 2 rain barrels.   Additionally, the water collected can only be used for non-potable purposes, so don’t plan on using it for eating or drinking. 

Instead use it for outdoor purposes including gardening, watering your lawn, or composting.  Lastly, you can only use the collected water on the property from where it was harvested.  So, for example, you cannot harvest the water on your own property and then use it to water your neighbor’s garden.

4. Georgia

Georgia is another state that allows its citizens to harvest rainwater yet worries about the impact it’ll have on the environment in times of droughts.  Therefore, you can only collect and use rainwater for outdoor purposes in order to not disrupt the state’s water cycle.  Therefore, it cannot be used for non-potable purposes.

Also, when installing a harvesting system, it must comply with the local county rules which vary throughout the state.  While each municipality has different rules, the premise of all of them is that the water must be collected in one of the state’s approved water reservoirs and go through a filtration process.

5. Illinois

Illinois requires that, after 120 days of homeowners’ association, there be a policy over water collection including its design and architectural requirements. Additionally, collected water must only be used for non-potable purposes. Finally, if the water collection exceeds 5,000 gallons or is used for any commercial purpose, then it must be approved by the state’s Department of Public Health. 

6. Kansas

Kansas allows the collection of rainwater but only for domestic uses.  Some common domestic uses include food preparation, washing clothes, and watering plants and lawns.  Importantly, domestic water usage includes using water for both potable and non-potable purposes. However, you cannot collect water for commercial uses such as irrigation.  If you wish to do so, you’ll need to get a permit from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

7. Nevada

nevada

Nevada only recently made it legal to collect rainwater.  In 2017, the state passed a bill that allowed its citizens to collect rainwater from the roofs of their homes. The state’s only restrictions on the harvested water include:

  • Using it only for domestic purposes
  • Using it only for non-potable usage

8. North Carolina

Rainwater collection in North Carolina is allowed but not without thorough restrictions and supervision.  Some of this could be in part due to the excess amount of runoff pollution caused by farms in the state. First off, rainwater can only be collected from off of the roofs of buildings.  Second, the state requires that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources help provide insight on the best way to collect rainwater. 

This includes ensuring that the rainwater collection system and reservoirs be inspected in addition to ensuring the proper filtration of the water. Lastly, the water collected must be non-potable and used for outdoor purposes such as irrigation and watering lawns. 

9. Ohio

In Ohio, you can collect rainwater for both potable and non-potable usage.  If you plan on drinking the water though, you’ll need to get approval from the state.  The Ohio Department of Health wants to ensure that the rainwater is safe.

10. Oregon

The Oregon Water Resources Department regulates the collection of rainwater.  You are allowed to do so under a few conditions:

  • Water is collected from the roof
  • Water be properly filtered if used for drinking

Moreover, using water for both potable and non-potable use is permitted.  

11. Texas 

One of the states that now highly encourages its citizens to collect rainwater, Texas used to be very strict on the matter.  Now, with new house bills, the remaining rules they have mostly apply to businesses and commercial use rather than at-home use.  

12. Utah

Utah has some of the country’s most strict water collection laws. To begin with, in order to collect rainwater, you can only do so if you are the owner or lessee of the property that you are collecting on.  So, if you are a landlord, then you cannot collect rainwater on your property if someone else is leasing it out.  Second, you must register with the Division of Water Resources if you have either:

  1. More than 2 collection containers
  2. More than 100 gallons of water collected

Third, you cannot store more than 2,500 gallons of rainwater at a time.  If you do, you could be in trouble with the Division of Water Resources. 

States that Encourage Collecting Rainwater

While some states make it challenging to collect rainwater, other states not only allow it but encourage it.  In some states, they are even willing to give tax incentives to those who collect rainwater.  This has become an effective way to help with water conservation in these states. 

States that give rebates to those who collect rainwater include:

  • Texas
  • Rhode Island
  • Florida
  • Virginia
  • Arizona

Other states that used to have strict was laws surrounding collecting rainwater but now openly allow it include:

  • Louisiana
  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • New Mexico
  • Maryland
  • South Carolina
  • New Jersey

In states like Tennessee, rainwater has actually become one of the primary sources of drinking water in many households.  Additionally, people will use the water throughout their homes including for showers and cooking. 

Should You Collect Rainwater?

In conclusion, no matter what state you reside in, you should take advantage of collecting rainwater.  It’s good for your wallet, the environment, and can be fun too. Just don’t forget to regularly check back with your state government to see if rainwater collecting laws have changed! Regardless, every home can at least in one way or another make use of rainwater

 

Bonus tip: If you’re new to collecting rainwater, check out this video to see how easy it is to install at-home rainwater barrels.

 

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Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.