Louisiana Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide

A lot of people choose to live off-grid in Louisiana because of the state’s warm weather, long growing season and farming culture.  Before you buy property in LA though, make sure you know these facts about off-grid laws in Louisiana.

Want to more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Louisiana?

The laws in Louisiana are generally favorable to off-grid living.  You’ll find it easy to get off-grid water and power for your home. Permits are required but the process is generally easier than that of other states. However, the sewage treatment laws in LA are very strict and, in some areas, these laws might make it illegal for you to go completely off grid.

Louisiana Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

If you want to go off-grid in Louisiana, you will want to find land zoned as “Rural.”

This land generally has the least restrictions on what you can do with it, such as raising animals, farming, or building storage sheds.  However, rural land in Louisiana typically has a minimum acreage amount.  For example, you will need to purchase at least 40 acres of land in areas zoned as Agriculture-40 (R-Ag-40).

You can find a good overview of Louisiana zoning laws and what they might mean for off-grid living here.

You might also find it useful to read: What is a Homestead Declaration?

Off-Grid Electricity in Louisiana

Off-grid electricity systems are legal in Louisiana. Generally, the state has very favorable laws towards renewable energy – particularly solar.

The state law states,

“No person or entity shall unreasonably restrict the right of a property owner to install or use a solar collector.”

Under this law, homeowners associations cannot prevent you from installing solar panels.

You will still be required to get a permit for most solar energy systems.  The system must be installed by a licensed contractor and meet building codes.

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Off-Grid Water

Because Louisiana is a water-rich state, the state water-rights laws are very friendly to off-grid living.

You will be able to use well water or even surface water on your property with few limitations.  However, it’s worth noting that parts of Louisiana have experienced droughts in recent years.

In drought times, the relaxed laws mean that your neighbors’ high-water use could cause your water source to dry up

Surface Water

Water is considered a “common enemy” under Louisiana law.  Because of this, landowners are generally allowed to do whatever they want with the water which is on their property.

You can make drainage ditches, irrigation canals, or retaining ponds.  There are some exceptions though.  For example, you cannot do anything which causes more water to flow to your neighbors than otherwise would have naturally gone there.

However, landowners are allowed to take steps to get water off of their property, even if it causes damage to downstream neighbors.  There are some exceptions to protect downhill neighbors though.  For example, you cannot make alterations that would divert water that otherwise wouldn’t have flowed to neighbors.  You can read more details here.

Who owns surface water in Louisiana?

All navigable waters in Louisiana are owned by the state. They own the bottom of the water up to the ordinary low water mark.

The bank of the water (defined as the land between the ordinary low and high water marks) belongs to the owner of the adjacent land.  However, the banks of navigable water are subject to public use.

This means that you cannot prevent people from recreationally using the banks of any navigable water on your property.  They cannot, however, walk through your property to access the bank without your permission.

Water levels are rising in Louisiana and some areas which were previously dry are not considered navigable waters.  As a result, there are some legal issues where both the state and private landowners have claims to the land.

Diverting Water for Private Use in Louisiana

It is legal to use surface water flowing on or next to your property in Louisiana.  However, the water must be used for domestic purposes.  It also must be returned to its original source.

It is not legal, for example, to divert a stream so it flows into a new channel. If you want to use surface water that is not on your property, then you will need to get approval from the state and pay fair value.

Building a Pond on Your Property

It is legal to build a pond on your property in Louisiana.  You generally do not need a permit if less than 1 acre of land is disturbed to build the pond.  However, you may need to get permits from various federal agencies if the property is in wetlands, a coastal zone, or close to sea level. The local county may also require a permit.

Well Water

Unless dug by hand auger, wells in Louisiana must be drilled by a licensed water well driller.

You do not need to get a permit to drill a domestic well, but you must send a Water Well Notification form to the Department of Natural Resources no later than 60 days after the well is complete. You’ll also need to submit a notification form if the well changes owners.

There are no state requirements for testing and inspecting wells after they are drilled.

Louisiana follows the rule of “Absolute Dominion” (aka Absolute Ownership Rule).  Under this rule, there is no limit to how much water can be withdrawn from wells.

If your well produces more than 50,000 gallons of water per day, you must register it with the Department of Public Works.  Free-flowing wells which produce more than 25,000 gallons per day must have control devices.

Rainwater Harvesting Laws in LA

Rainwater harvesting is legal in Louisiana.  State law does not currently have any set standards for how rainwater can be collected.  However, some areas may have laws that require mosquito-proof cisterns.

New Orleans law, for example, states

“Failure to thoroughly empty, dry or clean any artificial containers at least every five days, unless property screened in a manner to prevent the ingress and egress of mosquitos to and from the water contained therein” is a violation.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Louisiana’s laws about sewage removal are laid out in Title 51.  Systems are regulated by the Department of Health & Hospital’s Sanitation Services as well as local health departments.

Because so much of the state is wetlands or drains into crucial waterways, it’s no surprise that Louisiana’s off-grid sewage laws are strict.

Required to Connect to the Municipal Sewage System

In many places, you will be required to connect to the municipal sewage system if one is nearby.

For example, if the city extends the sewage line to near your property, you may be required to fill your septic tank and connect to the sewage line. These laws essentially make it illegal to go completely off-grid in parts of Louisiana.

License Requirements

Under Louisiana law, all sewage treatment systems must be installed by a licensed sewer installer.  There is an exception that allows you to install your own individual sewage system though, so long as it is for your own private use.

It would be illegal, however, for your neighbor to install the sewage system for you.

Permit Requirements

You need a permit for all onsite sewerage systems in Louisiana.  The process of getting a permit can be fairly complicated in some situations, such as if your soil is unsuitable for traditional septic systems or you want to use an alternative system.

Septic Laws

Louisiana has very strict laws about how septic tanks must be designed, installed, and maintained.

To be eligible for an individual sewage system, your land must be at least 22,500 square feet.  If you have a larger property with the appropriate ground water depth, then you will be required to use a septic system with field lines.

Depending on the soil, water depth and property size, you may be required to use a sand filter bed, oxidation pond, or an aerobic treatment unit (ATU).

To get a permit for septic, you’ll need to submit documents and detailed plans.  A sanitarian will come to do a site survey and determine whether to issue a permit.

After your septic system is installed, you are expected to have it inspected and maintained regularly.  You must provide a copy of the maintenance contract to the local health unit.  There are steep fines for not complying with septic maintenance.

Compost Toilets Laws

Compost toilet toilets are technically legal in Louisiana. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to legally use just a compost toilet for waste unless your home is very remote and doesn’t have running water.

The law considers compost toilets a type of “non-waterborne system.” These systems are only allowed when a state health officer “determines that it is impractical or undesirable, i.e., such as water under pressure is not available, either to connect to an existing community-type sewerage system.”

Another legal issue with using compost toilets is the requirement for graywater to be treated.  While Title 51 doesn’t specifically mention graywater from compost toilets, the law means won’t be legally allowed to dump the urine from your compost toilet on the ground without disinfecting it first.

Because of all of these restrictions, it is unlikely that you will be able to get a permit for your compost toilet unless you also have septic.

There is a loophole in the law though: if your home is occupied less than four days in a week and generates less than 100GPD of sewage, then you may get a permit for your compost toilet as a “limited use sewerage system.”

Whether you get a permit is still ultimately up to the local health officer.

Do Compost Toilets Need to be ANSI/NSF Certified in Louisiana?

Title 51 does not specifically mention whether compost toilets need to follow any guidelines.  However, the law does say that all mechanical and aerobic wastewater treatment systems must meet ANSI/NSF 40 guidelines.  Because compost toilets are aerobic, they might fall under these rules.

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Outhouses/Latrines Laws

Outhouses, called “pit privies”, are still legal in Louisiana.  They are only allowed in homes that do not have water under pressure.  There are very strict rules about where the pit privy can be located in relation to property lines, wells, waterways, reservoirs, and the high water mark.  If your property can’t meet these requirements, then you won’t get a permit for a pit privy.

The Department of Health and Hospitals has a pamphlet called “Louisiana Type Sanitary Pit Privy” which goes over the details of how pit privies must be designed and maintained.  You can request the pamphlet from them directly.

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Incinerating Toilets

Incinerating toilets are legal in Louisiana.  Like compost toilets and pit privies, they are considered non-waterborne sewerage systems.  They are only allowed when the property does not have water under pressure or using a conventional septic system is not feasible.

Graywater Recycling Laws

Simple graywater recycling systems are illegal in Louisiana.

The law states that,

“A person shall not directly or indirectly discharge, or allow to be discharged, the contents or effluent from any plumbing fixtures, vault, privy, portable toilet, or septic tank, into any road, street, gutter, ditch, water course, body of water, or onto the surface of the ground.”

If you want to recycle graywater legally in LA, you will have to install a more complicated system that disinfects the graywater first.  There may be a loophole in the law that allows you to use graywater for flushing toilets though.

Do you live off-grid in Louisiana? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.

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