Most people all over the world do not even think about the possibility that there is something illegal and wrong with rainwater collection and usage for their private purposes. Natural resources (including water resources) are a common good but not someone’s property, so why can’t you collect rainwater on the land owned by yourself during hard showers?
While any rainwater harvesting regulations and limitations in this sphere may seem odd, still, it is what it is, and we have to follow the existing rules and be aware of certain legal aspects. In the United States, the brief answer to the main question of this review is “No, generally, it is legal but with some restrictions in a couple of American states”.
Rainwater harvesting systems help to preserve natural resources and reduce the usage of water that runs from homeowners’ taps. Rainwater collection is a widely spread activity among those who live in the countryside and run a farm. Because it saves resources, some states do not only allow rainwater harvesting but also stimulate citizens to do so. Still, there are exceptions and you had better know them rather than face legal problems after putting a rain barrel or two on your land plot.
Our aim is to shed light on the topic and provide you with useful details regarding how some states restrict rainwater harvesting and why. Do not worry: in most cases, you do everything right if you collect rainwater and no one will sentence you to years of prison; it is not illegal to collect it. However, there are crucial points you should know before you start practicing rainwater harvesting.
In this review, we will determine special rules and rainwater harvesting laws in some American states and share some precious information with you about using water resources properly in the US.
Reasons for Limitations
Before we dive into legal aspects, let us give you a couple of reasons why rainwater harvesting is legal but with caveats in some American states.
Firstly, there is a common belief regarding bad influence from an interruption in the natural stream, water run and exchange. Supposedly, harvesting rainwater is no good because water does not refill rivers, lakes, and other water spots — it goes to a rain barrel or to any other rainwater collection system instead. This belief has brought regulators to rainwater collection limitations in the first place.
However, numerous studies prove that there is only a tiny influence (or no influence at all) when we speak about rainwater harvesting systems taking water from rivers and streams. The main argument is that most people who harvest rainwater will ensure the water reuse and bring it back to the ground later (for instance, when they will water their vegetable gardens).
Secondly, there is a solid conviction regarding the affection of rainwater on people’s health. It may be dangerous to drink this water, and in some cases, it is non-potable at all. That is why many people are quite skeptical about rainwater collection and allow only its non-potable domestic use.
Now that you know why some people think that it might be illegal to collect rainwater, let us explain to you some legal aspects and determine what regulations apply in this or that American state.
Federal Law and Government’s Relation to the Topic
Here, you can sigh with relief: there is no law that restricts rainwater harvesting anyhow on a federal level. The US government is not willing to punish anyone for such actions; moreover, sometimes it is even encouraged.
There is a simple reason to encourage rainwater collection: some US regions feel a lack of water, and their authorities try to promote conservation and launch water conservation projects to improve the existing situation.
What is more important is how rainwater harvesting is regulated from each state’s perspective. Here, we have to be more peculiar and pay attention to various points prescribed in codes and statutes here and there.
Below, we will briefly define the key rules for all states.
Rainwater Collection: State by State
You might be asking: what is actually regulated when we speak of rainwater harvesting? Mostly, laws of states where restrictions apply to regulate the amount of water residents can legally gather, methods of rainwater harvesting, and containers where the water goes.
We will begin with the list of states where nothing will happen if you start practicing rainwater harvesting on your land. There, no one will punish you anyhow for harvesting rainwater. In most states, there are no statutes dedicated to the topic.
Here is the full list of states where rainwater harvesting is legal without any caveats (as of the year 2022):
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
If you are in any of these states and willing to begin rainwater harvesting in your property lines, do not hesitate to install rainwater collection systems and use water that falls from the sky.
Besides, as you already know, in some states, public authorities stimulate rainwater harvesting (for example, by reducing certain taxes). Let us determine these states and explain what bonuses harvested rainwater gives to residents there.
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
While in some states, the local government declares that it supports rainwater harvesting and issues various papers on the topic (for one, in Connecticut, authorities have released a special guide that explains how to create and install rainwater harvesting systems), in other states, rainwater harvesting is legal and also beneficial — the government offers tax rebates, incentives, and credits (this works in Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, and some other areas mentioned above).
If you want to find out which benefits you can get if you set a rainwater harvesting system on your land and start collecting rainwater, we recommend you apply to the authorities in your state, and the best way to get the information is to send a message or call to the local Department that is in charge of natural resources.
Rainwater Collection Specs by State
Lastly, we will define in which states restrictions apply when we speak about rainwater harvesting. There are only 13 such states, and we will describe the limitations briefly for each region.
There are three conditions one should follow to practice rainwater harvesting lawfully on the land in Arkansas. Any exterior rainwater catchment systems used for rainwater harvesting in this state should be made in compliance with the Arkansas Plumbing Code, constructed by a licensed engineer who has permission to work in this specific state, and must be secure for residents (see Section 17-38-201 of the Arkansas Code Annotated).
The AB-1750 Rainwater Capture Act in California sets the rules regarding rainwater harvesting in the state. It declares that you should not receive any permission for rooftop rainwater harvesting. But, for one, if you harvest rainwater to landscape, you will need a rainwater collection permit.
In Colorado, there are particular rules and rainwater collection laws that might seem stricter than in the previous two states. Here, rainwater harvesting is legal only if you collect rainwater in two rain barrels (and their capacity in total should not exceed 110 gallons).
Moreover, the collected rainwater must be used only on the same land plot where you have received it. Also, you can use it for outdoor aims only. All these limitations and other points are prescribed in the Colorado House Bill 16-1005.
Like in Colorado, rainwater harvesting is legal only if homeowners use harvested rainwater outdo
ent documents that contain requirements regarding this
Generally, there are no limitations and rainwater harvesting is legal in the state; however, the local legislature draws attention to human rights. It says that you can gather and conserve water as long as you do not violate anyone’s rights. Also, it is illegal to harvest rainwater if it has already fallen to the ground and gone into the natural flow (in a river, stream, and so on).
There are two main requirements for rainwater harvesting practices in Illinois: every rainwater system installed in the state must comply with the Illinois Plumbing Code; received water cannot be utilized as drinking water (see Bill SB0038).
In Louisiana, there is just one rule for those who capture rainwater: if they gather water in large containers, such containers must be covered properly.
Because until a couple of years ago no one in Nevada could utilize rainwater harvesting lawfully, rules here are much stricter than in other areas. There are four different documents that contain requirements regarding this activity: Assembly Bill 138 and 198, the NB74 act, and Section P2912 of the Residential Code of Nevada.
If you plan to install rainwater capture systems in your property lines in Nevada, you had better check all these documents. For example, they limit the amount of legally received water to 20,000 gallons. Water in the state can be gathered only for non-potable purposes.
In North Carolina, rainwater harvesting is legal if you perform it in compliance with two laws: House Bill 609 and Senate Bill 163.
Unlike in many other states, in Ohio, you can legally use rainwater not only for non-potable purposes but as drinking water, too. Section 3701.344 of the Ohio Revised Code sets a limit: water supply systems and rainwater harvesting is legal if they provide non-potable and potable water for no more than 25 individuals.
As stated in the guide issued by the local Bureau of Development Services, rainwater harvesting is legal only if you receive water from your roof. Such water is officially considered non-potable.
A couple of restrictions are included in House Bill 3391. For instance, in Texas, any system that gathers rainwater must be included in your home’s design. Also, you have to notify the local public authorities about the collection.
In Utah, those who gather rainwater on the land, should either possess it or lease it. There are also some water conservation limitations related to the amount of water Utah residents can store.
As you can see, generally, rainwater harvesting is legal and in some areas, rainwater catchment is well-stimulated by local public authorities. It is a practical thing to do: you can reuse rainwater for numerous purposes, especially if you live in the countryside and possess a farm.
Frequently Asked Questions — FAQ
If something is still unclear, try finding the answer below.
Can you go to jail for collecting rainwater?
While it is generally legal to harvest rainwater in all American states, there are some unique exceptions and restrictions. For instance, in 2012, one man was sent to prison because he had captured way too much water. But typically, if you violate regulations applicable to your state, most likely, you will get a fine. Still, we recommend you obey the law and capture water from residential and commercial buildings in accordance with the local laws and norms.
What states is it illegal to collect rainwater in?
Currently, there are no American states where it is illegal. However, in 13 states, you have to follow a couple of rules and regulations and be careful when you install rain barrels or other systems that gather water. We have mentioned these states above and briefly described the norms for each area.
Why are rain barrels illegal?
Rain barrels are not illegal in general — they are prohibited in some states where you have to use a rainwater cistern instead. The reason is simple: barrels are made of materials that can be spoiled under sunlight; this will affect water and make it dangerous for people.
Rainwater collected through barrels often can be used neither for drinking and cooking nor for showering. That is why it is better to use cistern water — you can protect cisterns better.
How is rainwater collected?
There are different rainwater systems invented for a convenient water gathering. The most popular way is to capture roof runoff into cisterns or barrels (but be careful with barrels because of what we have said above). In many states, you have to ensure that your system is constructed in compliance with the local plumbing code, so you should also be careful when setting and collecting.