Many homeowners have begun harvesting rainwater to reduce their household water use. This practice is often considered one of the components of off-grid water systems. It reduces your water bill while conserving local water resources and helping recharge groundwater. However, rainwater harvesting is a legal gray area in the United States. Currently, no federal laws allow, forbid, or regulate the collection of rainwater. As a result, it’s specifically a state issue, with each state government passing different water laws regulating its collection and usage.

In this article, I’ll help you understand your rights to rainwater harvesting by looking into the laws, benefits, and restrictions for rainwater collection in each state.

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What Is Rainwater Harvesting?

Rainwater harvesting, sometimes called catchment, is the process of capturing precipitation and storing it for later use. Many homeowners reuse rainwater for gardens, potted plants, or potentially the entire yard. Some homeowners collect rainwater, then filter, boil, and drink it, even though some studies advise against it.

Most rainwater harvesting systems consist of a capturing device (typically a home’s gutter system), a filter, and a cistern (large tanks or rain barrels meant to hold the rainwater). As it rains, the rainwater collection system captures the stormwater runoff, then filters it and sends it to a cistern for storage. This is rainwater harvesting. Then, homeowners are free to use their at-home water supply for potable (human consumption) or non-potable (not for human consumption) purposes. Potable uses include using it as a source of drinking water, either filtered or unfiltered, and using it to boil food. Non-potable uses include using it to clean items or structures, water plants, or for other irrigation purposes.

Deciding whether to collect rainwater? Get insight into the process with this video tutorial from Andrew Millison:

Are There Regulations on Rainwater Harvesting?

Rainwater harvesting regulations in each state primarily determine the legality and regulations surrounding the collection of rainwater in the United States. Some states have embraced rainwater harvesting and offer incentives for its adoption, while others have stricter regulations or even collection of rainwater prohibitions in place.

  • Permit Requirements: Several state governments require permits for rainwater harvesting systems. The permitting process typically involves submitting plans and specifications along with paying fees. In these states, rainwater harvesting systems must meet certain design and safety standards.
  • Water Rights: Water rights laws can greatly influence rainwater harvesting. In states with strict water rights regulations, collecting rainwater may be subject to complex rules and limitations.
  • Water Quality: State governments often have guidelines for homeowners in maintaining water quality in harvested water sources. This may involve specifying filtration and treatment requirements to make sure the water supply is safe for its intended use.
  • Tax Incentives: Some states offer tax incentives or rebates to encourage rainwater harvesting installations. These incentives can offset initial costs and make rainwater harvesting more financially attractive.
  • Use Restrictions: State governments may have restrictions on how harvested rainwater can be used. For example, some states limit its use to non-potable purposes like irrigation and toilet flushing.
  • Mandatory Systems: A few state governments, particularly those with arid climates, have mandated the installation of rainwater harvesting systems for water collection in certain types of new construction.

Factors Influencing State Regulations

Several factors contribute to the variation in state government regulations on rainwater harvesting:

  • Climate: States with more significant rainfall may have less stringent regulations, while arid states often encourage rainwater harvesting to ease water scarcity issues.
  • Water Scarcity: States experiencing water scarcity are more likely to promote rainwater harvesting as a conservation measure.
  • Historical Water Rights: States with well-established water rights systems may have stricter regulations to protect existing water users.
  • Environmental Concerns: States with a strong focus on environmental sustainability tend to be more lenient and even supportive of rainwater harvesting.
  • Local Governance: Local municipalities and counties may have additional regulations or incentives related to rainwater harvesting, adding another layer of complexity.

State Regulations on Residential Rainwater Collection

Use the tools below to determine your state’s governance on residential rainwater collection. Hover over your location on the map, search it in the table, or flip through table pages for a look at each state’s rules.

StateRegulation Y/NEncouraged Y/NDescription 
AlabamaNoNoWater collection is considered a private property right with no regulations.
AlaskaNoNoRainwater harvesting is the primary means of water collection for many Alaskan homeowners and is unregulated.
ArizonaNoNoIn Arizona, there are bills that allow towns to generate funds for harvesting systems.
ArkansasYesNoAccording to Arkansas code § 17-38-201, homeowners can harvest rainwater as long as it’s non-potable, the harvesting system is installed by a licensed plumber, is designed with appropriate coss-connection safeguards, and is up to plumbing code.
CaliforniaYesNoThe Rainwater Capture Act of 2012 allows homeowners, property owners, government agencies, and business owners to harvest rainwater as long as it’s for approved purposes.
ColoradoYesNoHouse Bill 16-1005 states that homeowners are allowed to collect a maximum of two rain barrels with a combined capacity of 110 gallons. That water may also only be used outdoors.
ConnecticutNoYesNo regulation exists on rainwater collection, and the state encourages its homeowners to do so.
DelawareNoYesNo regulations exist, and there are state-sponsored incentive programs.
FloridaNoYesFlorida possesses no rainwater harvesting restrictions and has incentive and rebate programs.
GeorgiaYesNoRainwater is tightly regulated by the Department of Natural Resources and must only be applied for outdoor use.
HawaiiNoYesRainwater harvesting is highly encouraged by Hawaii’s local government.
IdahoYesNoHomeowners are allowed to capture and use rainwater as long as it does not re-enter natural waterways.
IllinoisYesNoAccording to the Plumbing-Rainwater Systems Bill SB0038, rainwater harvesting systems must be up to state plumbing code, and the water must be used for non-potable purposes.
IndianaNoYesThere are no restrictions on rainwater harvesting, and it’s encouraged by the state.
IowaNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
KansasNoNoRainwater harvesting is legal in Kansas for domestic use.
KentuckyNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
LouisianaYesNoRainwater harvesting is legal in Louisiana as long as the tank holding or capturing the rainwater is properly covered and sealed.
MaineNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
MarylandNoPartiallyMaryland does not currently have any regulations on rainwater harvesting, with some counties offering incentive programs.
MassachusettsNoYesMassachusetts does not have any restrictions on rainwater harvesting and encourages its residents to do so.
MichiganNoYesIt’s legal to harvest rainwater in Michigan, with the state encouraging its residents to do so.
MinnesotaNoYesMinnesota allows and encourages its residents to harvest rainwater.
MississippiNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
MissouriNoYesThere are no restrictions or regulations on water harvesting in Missouri, and the state encourages its homeowners to do so.
MontanaNoYesThe state of Montana does not regulate or restrict rainwater harvesting, actively encouraging its residents to do so.
NebraskaNoYesThere are no regulations or restrictions on rainwater harvesting in Nebraska, with several universities offering incentives.
NevadaYesNoRainwater collection was illegal in Nevada until 2017. However, Bill Number 138 now states that rainwater can be collected for domestic use as long as it’s non-potable.
New HampshireNoYesNew Hampshire encourages its residents to collect rainwater and places no restrictions or regulations on its harvesting.
New JerseyNoYesNew Jersey Assembly Bill 2442 offers rebate programs for homeowners that use specific harvesting methods.
New MexicoNoYesNew Mexico places no regulations or restrictions on rainwater harvesting and encourages its residents to do so.
New YorkNoYesNew York does not restrict or regulate rainwater harvesting.
North CarolinaYesNoRainwater harvesting is allowed with specific regulations, such as the water being used for non-potable purposes, pipes for rainwater harvesting being labeled as purple, and collection tanks being marked as non-potable water.
North DakotaNoYesNorth Dakota does not restrict or regulate rainwater harvesting and encourages its citizens to do so.
OhioYesNoAccording to Ohio Rev. Code §3701.344, rainwater can be harvested for potable and non-potable purposes for any household or group of fewer than 25 people, with restrictions on what materials can be used in its collection.
OklahomaNoNoThere are no restrictions or regulations on harvesting rainwater in Oklahoma at this time.
OregonYesNoRainwater collection is legal, often requiring a permit and restricting homeowners to outdoor systems (such as through rooftop collection).
PennsylvaniaNoYesHarvesting rainwater in Pennsylvania has no restrictions or regulations and is encouraged.
Rhode IslandNoYesState Bill 7070 provides tax incentives for up to 10% of the cost of the installation of cisterns.
South CarolinaNoYesRainwater harvesting has no restrictions or regulations in South Carolina, with the state encouraging its practice.
South DakotaNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
TennesseeNoNoTennessee does not have any laws regulating or restricting the harvesting of rainwater.
TexasYesYesTexas has multiple regulations on harvesting rainwater, such as requiring written notice to be given to the municipality. But, the state also offers various incentives like no tax on rain barrels.
UtahYesNoUtah has strict regulations on rainwater harvesting. Specifically, you must register your harvesting system, use the water on the land it was harvested on, and collect no more than 2,500 gallons of rainwater. Unregistered systems may collect no more than 100 gallons.
VermontNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
VirginiaYesYesVirginia encourages its residents to harvest rainwater, with Senate Bill 1416 offering tax credits to those with rainwater collection and harvesting systems. There are regulations as well, such as rainwater only being used for non-potable purposes, and the first 4 inches of water must be flushed via a diverter.
WashingtonYesNoIt’s legal to collect rainwater in Washington, but there are regulations. You must use the water on the property it was collected on, the system for collecting water must serve another purpose (such as irrigation), and each county has different rules on the potability of rainwater.
West VirginiaNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
WisconsinNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.
WyomingNoNoNo rainwater harvesting regulations exist in the state at this time.

Closing Thoughts

Harvesting rainwater is a great way to reduce your water bill while helping the environment by aiding in groundwater recharge. Unfortunately, there are no federally mandated water rights, so it’s up to each state to determine its laws on water conservation and usage. The good news is that no state outright bans rainwater harvesting, but many heavily restrict and regulate it. On the other hand, many states encourage residents to collect water to reduce public water usage, offering lucrative incentives and tax rebates.

Understanding the legality of rainwater harvesting in your state is important for complying with local laws and maximizing potential benefits. I recommend staying informed about your state's specific laws and taking advantage of available incentives. This will allow you to responsibly and effectively harvest rainwater. In doing so, you'll contribute to personal savings and support broader environmental conservation efforts.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to collect rainwater in California?

In 2012, California passed the Rainwater Capture Act, which required compliance with State Water Resources Board requirements.

The Rainwater Capture Act of 2012
allows residential, commercial and governmental landowners who collect rainwater to install, maintain, and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems. These systems must comply with specific requirements.

Why do some states restrict rainwater collection?

States restrict rainwater collection out of a concern that if too much rain is collected, it may disrupt the water coming back into the ground.

What are some states with rainwater collection restrictions?

Some states that have rainwater collection regulations are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, and Louisiana.

This is not a complete list, refer to the table provided for more.

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