Is the harvesting of rain illegal? The internet seems to think so, at least some parts of it. For clarity, when I say “harvesting of rainwater” I am referring specifically to the collection of rain falling from the sky before it hits the ground, not taking water out of an aquifer, reservoir or anything else.
If anything was ever going to be free for the taking, it should be rain, right? Maybe not.
Is harvesting rainwater illegal in the U.S.? Some states do have laws prohibiting or restricting the collecting of rain water, that much is true.
However, many states have no such laws against it or actively encourage citizens’ self-sufficiency to ease the burden on public utilities, the rest of the story is somewhat more complicated.
Hey! You got a license for that rainwater?!
Right up front, yes, most states allow you to collect rainwater with little to no regulation.
Some states have cursory regulations regarding how your collection system must be installed and approved, as well as what you can or cannot use the water for, i.e. for drinking and hygiene, or just for irrigation and cleaning. Even with these “minor” restrictions, it is a troubling thing for preppers.
You see, the government, at all levels, already interferes way, way too much in our lives as it is.
We get taxed coming and going, and there are just so gosh-darn many laws and regulations on the books at the federal and state levels that we are all, effectively, criminals in waiting.
The system has just sort of reached an equilibrium where by policymakers, law enforcement and courts don’t have the elbow grease or more importantly the cause to cart us all off to jail.
I don’t know about you, but that is a bum thing to live under. That a government would regulate, in any way, what you with water that you collect is mind-blowing. Now, minor aside out of the way, let’s look at the state of things when it comes to collection of rain water in the U.S.
States’ Issue, not Federal
There is no federal level prohibition against the collection and storage of rainwater, thankfully, though in these times who knows how long it will be before that changes.
Instead, some states have taken it upon themselves to impose onerous regulations against citizens trying to collect rainwater.
Some of this has actually resulted from the largely erroneous belief by people who should know better that the catching of rainwater will actually affect the hydrological cycle of the land, meaning it will impact how much water actually gets flowing into underground water sources.
Of course, anyone with even a cursory understanding of the factors at play would see immediately that the self-same water caught when it rains would eventually make its way to the same place after it was used. Because duh.
At any rate, scientific inquiry in the matter found no amount of catchment today has any impact on our water tables, springs, and any other ecologically important sources of water.
Previously throughout U.S. history there have been similar laws in place to restrict or prioritize water usage, and these were known as ‘prior appropriation’ laws.
Not entirely germane to the conversation, but worth noting since the prior appropriation laws served citizenry on a “first to claim” basis, versus the government just wholesale smashing everyone equally.
Rainwater Collection Laws State to State
Below is a list of all 50 states and a quick recap of their rainwater collection laws and regulations at the time of this printing.
It is comforting to know that most states are moving to more and more permissive rainwater collection laws for citizens, but that is far from uniform.
Additionally, some states take an opposite tack and force you to undergo inspections and certifications before you can catch rain, or make you install an engineer designed and approved system.
CAUTION: State laws change regularly. This article is not legal advice. The author is not an attorney. You must consult an attorney as part of your preparations before installing or utilizing any rain catching and rainwater storage system.
Alabama: Legal on private property and considered a right. Collection is encouraged.
Alaska: Completely unrestricted, groundwater collection regulated. Rainwater collection and storage is primary water source for many citizens.
Arizona: Legal, but currently undergoing enhanced study and scrutiny as to its effects on water rights. Some municipalities may establish funding for private rainwater collection systems.
Arkansas: Some restrictions. Allowed to harvest rainwater for non-potable use if system is designed by professionally accredited engineer, and has contamination safeguards installed. Also must comply with Arkansas plumbing code.
California: Legal to collect rainwater so long as in compliance with state Water Resources Board for specific purposes.
Colorado: While historically highly restrictive, Colorado has recently come around on rainwater harvesting. You are allowed to capture two barrels worth of rainwater totaling no more than 110 gallons and only for use as an irrigation source. Still pretty restrictive, it seems.
Connecticut: No restrictions on rainwater collection.
Delaware: No restrictions, actually sponsors collection initiatives!
Florida: Rainwater collection encouraged. Features tax incentives in several counties.
Georgia: Collection is tightly regulated, legal for outdoor use only.
Hawaii: Collection strongly encouraged. State Dept. of Health and Safety oversees.
Idaho: Collection of rainwater legal so long as it has not already entered waterways.
Illinois: Legal but regulated. HOAs may determine if allowed, and, if allowed, its design and where it is to be located.
Indiana: Collection is legal and encouraged.
Iowa: Collection is legal.
Kansas: Legal to collect rainwater if permit is obtained and water is used for anything except domestic purposes.
Kentucky: No restrictions.
Louisiana: Collection is legal, but large storage tanks are regulated.
Maine: Collection is legal.
Maryland: Collection is legal and come municipalities offer incentives for citizens to collect it.
Massachusetts: Collection is legal.
Michigan: Recently passes legislation makes rainwater collection legal and encouraged in Michigan.
Minnesota: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Mississippi: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Missouri: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Montana: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Nebraska: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Nevada: Regulated; while water rights include the collection of rainwater, it requires a grant, and you must use the rainwater for the purpose declared or your grant can be revoked, abjuring your right.
New Hampshire: Collection of rainwater is legal.
New Jersey: Collection of rainwater is legal.
New Mexico: Legal and highly encouraged by state body.
New York: Shockingly, rainwater collection is legal and encouraged.
North Carolina: Collection is legal, but Dept. of the Environment ensures “best practice” for rainwater reuse…
North Dakota: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Ohio: Collection is legal, but regulated by Ohio Dept. of Health for typical residential systems.
Oklahoma: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Oregon: Legal to collect and store rainwater, but only if caught by rooftop direction systems. Caution- seek legal advice.
Pennsylvania: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Rhode Island: Incentivized and encouraged by the state in the form of tax credits.
South Carolina: Collection of rainwater is legal.
South Dakota: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Tennessee: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Texas: Collection is legal, but some regulation in place. Collection system must be incorporated into building, and local government must be notified of your collection activity.
Utah: Legal, but registration required if you wish to store more than 100 gallons across two containers.
Vermont: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Virginia: Legal, and tax incentivized.
Washington: Collection of rainwater is legal.
West Virginia: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Wisconsin: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Wyoming: Collection of rainwater is legal.
Rainwater collection is legal for the most part, but plenty of states are either entirely too interested in who is doing the collecting or already mandate some odious regulations.
Regardless, you as a prepper should be up to speed on rainwater collection systems and protocols and do so as often as you can.