A few weeks ago, I posted a series of articles detailing the uses for, and construction of rain barrels. As I scanned the comments later, along with noticing quite a few folks pointing out my error of switching oxygen for nitrogen, I saw a few people mentioned that, in some sections of the country, the collection of rainwater is illegal. Flabbergasted, I looked it up and, turns out, depending on where you live, it may well be restricted. As a result, and to avoid steering anyone adrift of the law, I’ve compiled everything I can find on the legality, and illegality of collecting rainwater… The fact that, that’s a serious sentence, and not some Onion-esque attempt at satire makes my head spin, but I digress.
As it turns out, rainwater collection restrictions have a long history. They date back to the California Gold Rush of 1848 to 1855. Many miners used hydraulic pressure to “dig” mines, and thus created pathways to divert water that wasn’t on their land. This led to the first set of “first come, first serve” laws on the collection of rainwater from “natural sources.” Nowadays, the primary reason given for rainwater regulation is to protect your health. As mentioned in the previous articles, collected rainwater is not suitable for human consumption, without some serious filtration or other purifying process. A secondary reason, in drier areas, is the rainwater will not find its way to water sources if it’s collected. In other states, its collection is incentivized. Whatever the case on the state level however, there can always be restrictions on the local level, so make sure to check any ordinances that may be in place.
While there are several thousand too many localities for us to cover here, see below for the best information I can find on state incentives and restrictions. Please keep in mind of course, I ain’t a lawyer, and laws in this country can change with the breeze, so just use this as a general guideline.
Alabama has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Alaska has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Arizona has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater may be collected, but only for non-drinking purposes. The collection system must also be designed by a licensed engineer to conform to Arkansas Plumbing Code.
Rainwater can be collected, but its use must abide by requirements set forth by the California State Water Resources Control Board.
Rainwater may be harvested, but only in two barrels with a maximum capacity of 110 gallons. Harvested water must also not be transported to a different property.
Connecticut has no restrictions on rainwater collection
Delaware has no restrictions on rainwater collection. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control offers incentives for collecting rainwater, such as discounted rain barrels.
Florida has no restrictions on collecting rainwater, and sometimes offers incentives for collection through the Water Saving Incentive Program.
Rainwater may be collected for non-potable uses, provided it complies with local county requirements.
Hawaii has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater may be collected off roofs and the ground, provided it had not yet entered a waterway.
Rainwater collection is legal for non-drinking purposes, as long as the system complies with Illinois Plumbing Code.
Indiana has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Iowa has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater for domestic use is allowed in Kansas without a permit. For commercial irrigation, or any lawn or garden above two acres, a permit must be acquired through the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Kentucky has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Louisiana has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Maine has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Maryland has no restrictions on rainwater collection, and some incentives are offered at the county level.
Massachusetts has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Michigan has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Minnesota has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Mississippi has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Missouri has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Montana has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Nebraska has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater collection for domestic, non-drinking use is legal and permissible.
New Hampshire has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
New Jersey has no restrictions on rainwater collection, and offers resident incentive programs.
New Mexico requires permits for some forms of rainwater harvesting systems, but does offer incentives for green building that harvests rainwater.
New York has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater collection is regulated at the state level for non-potable uses such as outdoor irrigation and plumbing.
North Dakota has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rainwater collection is allowed for both potable and non-potable uses. The only regulations existing are for cisterns collecting water for domestic use.
Oklahoma actively encourages the collection of rainwater, through the Water for 2060 Act.
Rainwater collection is regulated by the Water Resources Department–only roof sources can be used, and water can be used for drinking with a proper filtration system.
Pennsylvania has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Rhode Island has no restrictions on rainwater collection, and offers tax incentives.
South Carolina has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
South Dakota has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Tennessee has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Texas has no restrictions on rainwater collection, and offers some tax incentives.
Collection is regulated by the Division of Water Rights. A maximum capacity of 2,500 gallons is allowed, and collectors must register for approval with the aforementioned Division.
Vermont has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Virginia has no restrictions on rainwater collection, and encourages it through the Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund.
Washington requires rainwater be collected on your own property, using a structure that has at least one other purpose. Some cities offer further incentives.
West Virginia has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Wisconsin has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
Wyoming has no restrictions on rainwater collection.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”
Tom Kelley says
How could rainwater be bad for your health? Could it have something to do with the collection containers?
The Commish says
Manatee County in Florida sells a Rain Barrel Kit for $30 which includes a 55 gal blue drum, debris screen, brass spigot, all PVC fittings & directions for assembly. Barrel to be hooked up to your roof downspouts.
Don’t forget about local municipalities also may have their own restrictions on rainwater harvesting, on top of a state.
Not So Free says
Rainwater doesn’t belong to the state. It comes from God.
I.M.O. Water, especially fresh-water, will become an even more precious resource! I don’t understand why any state or local jurisdiction would restrict residential, rainwater collection! ESPECIALLY in drought areas/years! To see neighborhoods using the chlorinated, treated, public water system for watering yards, trees, plants, & even washing cars seems crazy! Especially considering how easy & cheap cost it is to do! I lived in an area that every summer, every homeowner, had to place a “soaker” hose around the perimeter, or the ground would literally dry, crack, & shrink, until the concrete foundation would actually CRACK & cause extensive structural damage! To prevent costly water bills, where we were billed TWICE! (Once for water usage & secondly for sewer charge BASED ON AMOUNT OF WATER USAGE!) I used rain-barrels from roof gutter down-spouts, & swimming pool filter backwash water hose. My yard stayed green, & foundation remained moist, even in driest times! Otherwise, if I hadn’t collected the rainwater when it rained it would have mostly ran off property into city stormwater system.. As I stated, this is just my opinion, I’m sure there are others that disagree, or further substantiated reasons why there’s restrictions. Thanks!
RIC CARTER says
The “First in time, first in right” concept actually came from English law.
George Wroclawski says
Please correct NJ.
Lars Drecker says
All fixed! Thanks for catching that typo!