Is It Illegal To Collect Rainwater? The Truth about Water Rights


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Last Updated: July 1, 2021

You want to harvest rainwater so you can have more independence from the utility companies, be self-sufficient, and practice conservation?

Before you get started, make sure you know the laws about whether it is legal to harvest rainwater.

Is Rainwater Harvesting Illegal?

In most places, it is completely legal to harvest rainwater for outdoor use such as irrigation.

Many places even encourage residents to collect rainwater and offer incentives.

However, if you want to use harvested rainwater indoors – even for things like flushing toilets – you’ll likely have to meet strict plumbing codes for “nonpotable water,” such as installing disinfecting systems or dying the water a different color.

These rules can make it so expensive and complicated to use rainwater indoors that it might as well be illegal.

Rainwater Harvesting Exists in a Legal Gray Area

Rainwater harvesting is fairly new and many states still do not have any laws regulating it.  This puts rainwater collection in a legal gray area: it is legal but you could still encounter legal problems – especially if your neighbors complain.

As rainwater harvesting becomes more popular, more states are beginning to address it in the law. While states won’t make rainwater harvesting outright illegal, we can expect regulations on things such as rain barrel location, insect and pest prevention measures, allowed materials and other rules.

rainwater collection from gutters

Why States Make Laws Against Rainwater Harvesting

Most rainwater harvesting laws do not outright forbid it. Rather, the laws are written to protect people from unsafe practices.  This is similar to counties creating building codes so people don’t create unsafe homes.

For example, the law may require mesh on inlets so rainwater barrels don’t become mosquito breeding grounds.

Some areas also require a permit for large systems, which makes sense when you see how many people unsafely set up large tanks which could topple over on someone and kill them.

The laws against using rainwater indoors are in place to keep people from getting sick from drinking dirty water or putting unsafe water into the sewage system.

Yes, it might seem unfair to have all of these laws against rainwater harvesting.  However, if you’ve ever lived somewhere which doesn’t have or enforce building codes, you’ll quickly see how irresponsible people can be.

Even if you plan on harvesting rainwater responsibly, the law is still written with the most irresponsible or uneducated people in mind.

pretty rainwater collection system

States Where It is Illegal to Harvest Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting is legal in all 50 states in America.  Many people incorrectly say that rainwater harvesting is illegal in Colorado and Utah. It is legal even in these states, though there are stricter rules which do make some systems illegal.

Colorado Rainwater Harvesting Laws

Colorado’s rainwater harvesting laws are based on the idea that collecting water will prevent it from flowing back into the ground.  Because the Colorado watershed provides the Southwestern USA, collecting too much rainwater could theoretically deprive other states of their water.

Thus, there was the infamous case of Kris Holstrom who was sentenced for having 55-gallon buckets under the gutters of her farmhouse in Colorado.

Since then, Colorado’s rainwater laws have been updated. You are now allowed to collect up to two barrels of rainwater with a maximum combined capacity of 110 gallons.

There is a loophole in the law that allows you to divert as much rainwater as you want so long as it isn’t being collected in a barrel or other container.  Read more about Colorado off’grid laws here.

Utah Rainwater Harvesting Laws

Utah allows rainwater harvesting. You are allowed to have two containers with a maximum capacity of 100 gallons each.  If you want to collect and store more water than this, you will need to register with the government.

Registered people are allowed to collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater.

Common Restrictions on Rainwater Harvesting

Even though rainwater harvesting is legal in every state, it is common to find restrictions.  Here are just some of the most common laws regulating rainwater harvesting that you might encounter in your state or county.

  • Rainwater system cannot be connected to potable water supply
  • Only for nonpotable water
  • Can only use roof for collecting water
  • Must use mosquito-proof containers
  • Need to install debris diverters
  • Rainwater cannot be collected in a pond without obtaining a permit first
  • Need permit to install underground rainwater cisterns or large holding tanks

Bear in mind that rainwater harvesting rules are ultimately decided by your county or city.  Some homeowners associations might also have additional rules on rainwater harvesting.  You’ll have to check these local rules to find out what rainwater harvesting systems are legal or not.

rainwater Irrigation System

Is It Legal to Use Harvested Rainwater Indoors?

Almost every state has very strict laws about using harvested rainwater indoors, even for things like flushing toilets.

This is because most states and counties use the International Plumbing Code (IPC).  The IPC currently do not address rainwater harvesting systems specifically.

Thus, rainwater systems are interpreted as falling under the same rules as other “nonpotable water” systems.  This means that, in order to legally use rainwater indoors, you’ll need to do things like get a permit, filter and disinfect the water, label the pipes, and meet other regulations.

As rainwater harvesting becomes more popular, it’s likely that the IPC will update its regulations and address rainwater systems.

States and counties can also enact their own regulations for using rainwater indoors.  These regulations could ultimately end up being stricter than the current rules though.  If being able to use rainwater indoors is important to you, make sure you are involved with your local government.

Is It Legal to Use Rainwater for Drinking Water?

In states where there are laws on the books about rainwater harvesting, it is usually illegal to use rainwater for drinking.

In states which don’t have laws about rainwater harvesting, it is legal to drink rainwater.  However, you’ll have to meet strict plumbing codes.

These laws are so strict (you essentially become a water treatment facility) that it might as well be illegal to drink rainwater.

The Good News

While some states still do have ridiculous laws prohibiting rainwater collection.  But, at the same time, many states are coming around and even encouraging rainwater harvesting.

  • In Georgia, for example, you can get a $2,500 tax exemption for rainwater harvesting systems – see Georgia off grid laws
  • Texas now gives tax breaks for individuals and communities installing rainwater harvesting systems – see Texas off grid laws
  • Tucson, Arizona offers up to $2,000 in rebates for installing rainwater harvesting systems.
  • Santa Fe County, NM now requires new residences to install rainwater collection systems.

The laws about rainwater harvesting are constantly changing and it can be tough to find accurate, up-to-date information about the laws in your state.

Here are some resources where you can find more information.

If you are interested in installing a rainwater collection system and want a rebate, check out this page: Rainwater harvesting incentives.  You can see if your state/municipality offers any kickbacks for doing what we should all be doing.

Do you think that rainwater harvesting should be regulated?  What implications can you see for the future?

Leave a comment

  1. It’s now legal to harvest up to 110 gallons –max of two rain barrels– of rainwater from your own roof in Colorado. They changed the state law on rainwater harvesting in 2016. However, as restrictive as this still is, … “water law experts say rain barrels are only technically illegal, because proving they injure the water rights of other users is nearly impossible.”

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  2. I’d rather see these laws enforced on bigger “consumers” such as Nestlé and other water bottling companies. There really is enough to go around, I think, but it’s all ending up in the store, instead of getting it “free” out of the tap.

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  3. I frankly find these laws archaic and completely ridiculous. It’s like taxing the air you breathe and arguing just because you own your property doesn’t mean you own the air you breathe or the sunlight you receive on the property. I can kind of understand the argument for rainwater collecting, I think the water collecting itself should be every citizen’s right to freedom but how you store it is a question of contention. I mean creating your own Olympic sized mosquito sludge lake then flushing the wastewater into public waterways is kinda stupidly selfish, but with the future increasing frequency of droughts coming, having a couple of rain barrels for personal use will be vitally needed and should NOT be made illegal as just a matter of common sense.

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    • Unfortunately, the laws are usually made with the dumbest and least-responsible sections of society in mind. It’s easier to just forbid rainwater collection completely than enforce regulations so it’s done safely. Luckily, a lot of states are encouraging rainwater collection and even give free rain barrels. that’s talked about a bit here: https://www.primalsurvivor.net/living-off-grid-legal/

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