Before you plan for rainwater harvesting, it’s important to know: Is it illegal to collect rainwater? Many state, municipal, and regional agencies have laws regulating rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater harvesting or collection is setting up a system to capture, store and divert rainwater runoff and putting it to use. It’s a water conservation method to preserve rainwater runoff. It’s especially helpful in areas in which water resources are difficult to access or are scarce.
People use rainwater runoff for watering plants, gardens, and trees. Many people connect it to an irrigation or sprinkler system for their lawns. It’s ideal for washing cars and outdoor furniture.
In addition, setting up a rainwater cistern can divert water away from structures on the property, helping prevent erosion and other issues.
As it’s become more popular and as education and interest increases around sustainability, many cities and towns have adopted or amended guidelines and codes to support practical, effective, and responsible rainwater harvesting methods.
We’ll discuss which states have restrictions on rainwater collection and which states don’t. In addition, you’ll learn about rainwater harvesting methods you may need to follow. Here’s what to know about collecting rainwater.
Is it illegal to collect rainwater
In the United States, there aren’t federal laws or restrictions based on rainwater harvesting. This means at the federal level, it is not illegal to collect rainwater. That’s the good news.
However, like with many things, there are rules and ordinances at the state level that may affect you.
Rainwater harvesting is regulated by each individual state. This means, depending on which state you live in, there may be specific ordinances to follow.
Some states limit how much rainwater you can collect. Other states restrict the types of methods you can use to harvest rainwater. Some have certain criteria regarding the containers (cisterns and rain barrels, etc.) you can collect rainwater in.
Some municipalities encourage rainwater harvesting
All states in the US allow for rainwater collection on private property, and many don’t require any permit to do so.
In certain areas of the country, there towns and cities which encourage their residents to set up rainwater collection systems. They do not enforce barriers to collecting rainwater. Reasons may be due to the climate, the annual rainfall, and natural freshwater bodies of water in the area.
In regions with arid or dry climates, such as in the southwestern United States, residents are encouraged to harvest rainwater. This is because it reduces the burden on local water systems.
To help educate, encourage and support rainwater collection, many offer assistance with free rainwater harvesting classes through non-profit organizations dedicated to protecting, restoring and preserving watersheds.
In addition, there are municipalities which offer incentives or rebates in the hopes to encourage households to capture rainwater runoff.
Rainwater collection in San Antonio, TX
Oftentimes, these rebates are offered to commercial, industrial and institutional customers to incentivize them to collect rainwater. In San Antonio, Texas, rebates are calculated by multiplying acre-feet of water conserved by a set value of $200/acre-foot for these customers. They can earn up to 50% back for installing rainwater collection systems.
Rainwater collection in Manatee, FL
Another example is in Florida. At the state level, Florida doesn’t offer rebate programs; however, there are local incentives. In Manatee, Florida, if households and commercial users meet certain criteria, they can earn cistern rebates of up to 50% up to a certain dollar amount.
In Orlando, Florida, when single-family homes install a rainwater harvesting cistern, they can earn a one-time rebate of $0.02 per gallon up to $200. In-ground cisterns as well as rain barrels qualify for the rebate with proof of purchase.
Most municipalities which incentivize rainwater harvesting offer one-time rebates on the cost of the rainwater harvesting container. However, in a few areas across the country, households and commercial owners can earn yearly credits for meeting certain thresholds.
Areas that restrict rainwater harvesting
However, many states have restrictions how much rainwater residents can collect and how it is to be done. This means, before you choose the best rainwater harvesting system for your homestead, you must consider if there are regulations.
The reason some areas limit the amount people can harvest privately is because when people collect it for their personal use, it doesn’t go back into the public water supply.
When residents capture rainwater, it doesn’t fill the town’s water table. Rainwater ends up in rivers, which multiple states depend on for water for farming and drinking. This is also where groundwater systems that go into cities get their supply from.
Water is critical for areas to operate and affect’s many states incomes in the form of agriculture and other water-rights holders.
If only a small percentage of people collect rainwater, no major impact on the amount of water going to these other areas will occur.
However, if there is a large percentage of households collecting rainwater in large collection tanks consistently, it could cause shortages. This can be an issue in areas where the average rainfall isn’t enough for proper irrigation or drinking.
An example of a state with rainwater harvesting guideline manuals is Georgia. It’s one of many states that mandate specific requirements.
In Georgia, the rules are related to system requirements and how much water you can collect. They offer help about the catchment surface in order to address downspout filters, leaf screens, strainer baskets, first filter diverters and more.
States and municipalities with laws and regulations work to ensure that there are some limits to how much water can be kept by a single household. They also want to ensure the water is being captured safely and responsibly.
State rules about collecting rainwater
At the state or local level, some of the mandates for installing rainwater harvesting systems may include:
- First flush diverters
- Screen filters
- Ozone treatment
- Reverse osmosis
- Ultraviolet light disinfection
Others may restrict the amount of water you can collect.
Rain barrel restrictions
Some areas which also rainwater harvesting may restrict the use of rain barrels. They may require cisterns instead.
Rain barrels are typically smaller than rainwater cisterns. They are usually 50 – 100 gallon containers designed to capture roof runoff. Homeowners should be aware of sunlight which can be a catalyst for algae grown in rain barrels.
Using rain barrels is considered to be passive rainwater collecting. Using cisterns is considered to be active rainwater harvesting. Cisterns are larger in volume, with the ability to collect much more water. Typically, they range in size from 1,000 – 100,000 gallons.
What states is it illegal to collect rainwater
It’s important to know in what states is it illegal to collect rainwater. Currently, all of the states in the US allow rainwater collection on private property. This means it’s not illegal in any state. In 2016, Colorado lifted their ban on rainwater collection. Colorado residents can now harvest rainwater with restrictions.
States with restrictions on rainwater harvesting
Many states offer restrictions on collecting rainwater. In some states, it varies by the region or municipality. Here are some states with restrictions:
Rainwater collection in Arkansas is legal, but the state does have restrictions on how it can be done.
You can call the Board of Health to see what plumbing codes you will need to follow, but the contractor you work with will likely know, as well. In a nutshell, here are the regulations that cover rainwater collection in Arkansas.
- Collection system must be designed by a licensed engineer in the state of Arkansas.
- The collection system needs to have the correct cross-connection safeguarding.
- It must abide by all state and county plumbing codes.
In recent years, the state of Colorado lifted their longtime ban on residential barrels. Most Colorado residents are now allowed to harvest rainwater with these restrictions:
- Limit of two rain barrels
- Combined capacity limit of 110 gallons
- Container must have a sealable lid
However, Colorado laws don’t account for rainwater coming off roof gutter downspouts that is diverted onto landscaped areas. Households can use this water without concern.
In addition, collected rainwater must not be used for drinking and only for irrigation and gardening.
Colorado had been the only state with an outright ban on residential rain barrels. There are many governances surrounding Colorado Water Access and Water Rights.
As complicated as these rights might be, the basic principle is that someone owns the rights to the water collected and used. Because the state of Colorado produces so much water each year, this water goes to many other places where water is scarce, such as areas of Arizona. In addition, like in most states, rainwater is used for agriculture.
In Illinois, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act is responsible for water conservation, efficiency, infrastructure and management and supports rainwater collection.
Rainwater collection systems are allowed for residents in Illinois, but two major restrictions must be followed.
- Every homeowner’s association needs to have regulations in place to address the design, location, and structural requirements of the systems.
- Residents need to decide whether the system will be made from a rainwater collection system, composting system, or a wind energy system.
Rainwater collection is encouraged in Illinois, but these restrictions are to help people do the job safely.
There aren’t incentives to capture rainwater at the Oregon state level. Oregon allows its residents to collect rainwater, but it only authorizes catchment systems that are located on the roof’s surface.
Also, Oregon asks that you get permission from the city before starting any construction of the system.
In Portland, through their Clean River Rewards program — which encourages people to “save the rain” — if you manage stormwater, you can earn discounts on stormwater management charges.
They also have a Downspout Disconnect Program which removes stormwater from the sewer system.
Utah allows its residents to collect and store rainwater as they see fit provided they are registered with the Division of Water Resources. However, there is one restriction. They can collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater.
This means the cistern can be as large as 2,500 gallons. Or you can have multiple tanks to hold this total amount. As the residents use the water, they can continue to capture rainwater up to the 2,500 gallons. This means, you can store up to 2,500 gallons at any time in Utah.
For households who do not register with the Division of Water Resources, they are also held to the 2,500 gallon capacity but cannot use more than two containers to collect and store that amount.
Laws Against Collecting Rainwater
Though the list of states where it is illegal to collect rainwater is nonexistent, many states have laws regulating collecting rainwater.
These laws govern how residents can collect the rainwater, how much they are legally allowed to keep, and if any of that water can be used as drinking water.
Most all areas require captured rainwater to be non-potable. This means the rainwater isn’t safe to drink, cook with, or bathe in. The water can be used for agriculture and home gardens. However, it’s best to direct the water to the soil only and to avoid watering plants, leaves, and produce.
These legal regulations are mainly in place to ensure that the water is stored and used properly. In this way, it isn’t incorrectly managed and put into the public water supply.
States that Encourage Rainwater Collection
In opposition to the states above that have restrictions and limitations on the way the system is built and how much water you can store, some are much more liberal with the matter.
In fact, some states offer tax breaks and other incentives to encourage people to start a rainwater collection system of their own.
Here are the states that have the most encouraging attitudes towards residential rainwater collection and have looser restrictions and regulations:
In California, the Assembly Bill 1750 legalized the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. It allows for the collection of rainwater from rooftops without a water right permit from the state board. This is permitted for residential, commercial and governmental entities.
Being on the coast, municipalities throughout California cite the benefits of rainwater harvesting and encourages residents and commercial owners to participate.
Los Angeles rainwater collection
In Los Angeles, they explain how rain barrels protect their creeks, rivers and the Pacific Ocean by reducing the amount of storm water which would otherwise flow into their waterways. They explain how capturing rainwater can reduce pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers, keeping them from the ocean. Using rainwater to irrigate landscape is proactive for the environment. It also helps to save energy from needing to treat it.
San Diego Water Collection
The San Diego Public Utilities Department has a Rain Barrel Rebate Program. This allows recipients to earn $1.00 for every gallon of rain barrel storage capacity up to 400 gallons. There is a maximum of $400 per property.
There are requirements regarding barrel capacity. It must be a minimum of 45 gallons. Also, it can’t exceed 200 gallons. This means, to earn the maximum $400, you could own two harvesting systems that are 200 gallons each.
The Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection has released a document that state residents are encouraged to adopt rainwater collecting practices. They educate about using gutter mesh to prevent leaves and debris from blocking the gutters. In addition, they encourage installing rain heads and first flush diverters.
Delaware does not have any laws restricting rainwater collection. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control outlines the benefits, site and design considerations, and suggested maintenance for rain barrels and cisterns.
Delaware sponsors multiple incentives for residents who set up a collection system on their property. This has helped to reduce rain runoff and improve the irrigation in the state.
Florida is very encouraging to its residents who have a rainwater collection system. It even offers them both tax incentives and rebates through government programs.
New Jersey state allows its residents to have a rainwater collection system and offers rebates through conservation funds.
This allows residents to receive small amounts of money for having and maintaining a proper collection system.
The North Carolina legislature passed State Law 243 which authorized changes in the plumbing code in order to facilitate the use of cistern water for residential and commercial buildings. They provide instructions making it straightforward to install rain barrels and cisterns and encourage building rain gardens.
One main restriction that comes with all other states’ regulations is that no rainwater can be used for drinking water. This water is not purified and can contain harmful particles. It is considered not-potable.
However, Ohio allows its residents to use recycled rainwater for drinking water provided that it’s less than an average of twenty-five individuals daily at least sixty days out of the year.
Rainwater harvesting is allowed in Oklahoma. Under the House Bill 3055, the Water for 2060 Act initiates grants for water conservation projects.
This means they passed a water bill act that allows for grants to be used to fund community projects that have to do with conservation.
One of the main uses is to educate and inform residents of rainwater collection and how to go about doing this on their properties.
The state of Rhode Island offers a tax credit for its residents who participate in rainwater collection. This can be received by both individuals and businesses within the state.
The tax credit is for 10% of the total cost of installing the collection system. This is under Rhode Island’s House Bill 7070 which created a tax credit for individuals or businesses for the installation of cisterns to collect rainwater.
Recipients earn a state income tax credit of 10% of the cost of installing the cistern to a maximum of $1,000. It accounts for cisterns that are a minimum of 50 gallon capacity to capture and divert rainwater or snow melt.
Through Senate Bill 1416, the state of Virginia encourages its residents by informing them of the benefits. It also gives income tax credits for those who install and use rainwater harvesting systems.
They have guidelines for residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial and fire suppression.
Guidelines work to promote conservation as well as to lessen demands on public treatment works and water supply systems. They explain systems designed for potable use must be equipped with appropriate water treatment components.
There aren’t incentives at the state level. According to the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology, rainwater can only be used on the property where it’s collected.
In Bellingham and Seattle, there are rebates residents can qualify for.
In Wyoming, the Wyoming State Engineers office is in charge of water rights in the state.
There isn’t a permit process to collect and store rainwater. In Laramie, Wyoming, there aren’t regulations for rainwater harvesting. Households can collect storm water for personal use without restrictions and rules.
Is it illegal to collect rainwater in California?
It is not illegal to collect rainwater in California. Being a coastal state, the government works to educate about the benefits of diverting storm water runoff and directing it to non-potable uses such as irrigation.
Many California municipalities offer incentives to install rainwater collection systems. Typically, to qualify, you will need to take before and after installation photos as well as show copies of receipts or paid invoices for each rain barrel.
Why Are Rain Barrels Illegal?
Some states prohibit the use of rain barrels while allowing cisterns. This seems like one of the simplest and most affordable ways to collect rainwater, so why are rain barrels illegal? Is catching rainwater illegal when using rain barrels?
The reason behind this is that many are worried about the safety of this type of water, especially when it comes to drinking it. It is non-potable. In contrast, water from your kitchen faucet is potable.
Rain barrels offer a simple and easy way to collect water. However, they carry the danger of not being the best option for potable water; you should not drink it since it is not purified.
Some rain barrels are DIY and more rudimentary in nature.
There are concerns with indirect and direct sunlight. Oftentimes, pathogens can grow in rain barrels, especially when storing water for longer periods. Rain barrels need to be sealed to abate mosquitoes. Overall, with cisterns you can do more to protect the water.
Still, some states do allow for these rain barrels as long as as you don’t drink the water you collect.
Because it is not sanitary, it can only be used for irrigation systems. You can use it to water your plants and grass instead of using potable, treated drinking water for the job.
Also, as an added bonus for those who have large gardens with many plants, the rainwater is fresh, especially if you use it all soon after it rained.
This means that it has not been treated with any sort of chemical process that could make it harmful to your plants. It also means that it is not hard water, which is a relatively common thing to have in many houses and is not great for plants.
Is collecting rainwater illegal in the US?
Each state has different legal uses for the water you collect. At the same time, they have different regulations for the building of the systems you use to collect rainwater.
As such, you will need to know what your state allows before you decide to get any type of rainwater collection system. Even if your state has minimal or no requirements, you will need to check with the area in which you live.
With options like rain barrels that are ideal for irrigation, especially in the springtime, you have inexpensive choices to pick from. At the same time, if you prefer a large option for your business or large property, you can also have a larger, engineered system.
This type of rainwater harvesting system will come with overflow protection and a large storage tank. You can choose one with a capacity of 1,000 gallons and higher.
These rainwater harvesting tanks can range in price depending on where you live and how big you want the system to be.
If you choose to opt for one of these larger systems, you may be able to offset a portion of the cost in some states and cities that offer rebates and tax credits for part of the total amount.
So, if you live in an area where there are little-to-no restrictions, and you can get money back for using less public water for your irrigation, then why not?
Is Catching Rainwater Illegal?
Many homeowners and residents want to capture, divert, store and reuse rainwater. Doing so reduces and minimizes or eliminates storm water runoff. It conserves water and reduces water bill.
Freshwater is a limited resource we often need to pay for. One alternative that many people use is rainwater. Learn how to reduce irrigation water usage when watering lawns, trees, gardens and using harvested water. Rainwater for outdoor maintenance makes rainwater collection attractive.
There is quite a bit of confusion about rainwater collection. Many people tend to have questions about what it is and how it works. The most important thing to do before starting is to learn about rainwater collection laws in your state. From there, you can learn what what criteria to follow to make it legal in your area.
If you are interested collecting rainwater, double-check the list above to see if it is legal, regulated, or actively encouraged in your area.
This will allow you to know what you should look out for. It will help to know what regulations or restrictions you will need to abide by to build and keep your system.
Whether you want to do it for the environment, for lower water bills, or just to learn more about conservation efforts, using this information will give you everything you need to get started.
Again, to answer the question is it illegal to collect rainwater in any of the 50 states, the answer is no.