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Is Collecting Rainwater Illegal?

Rain is a gift of nature as we all know. We can take advantage of having free water by collecting rainwater for various uses. But is collecting rainwater legal or not in the U.S.? Well, you are about to find out.

Thanks to recent legislation, the current law in most states reflects a fair amount of freedom for homeowners to collect rainwater and use it to supplement their normal usage. But it wasn’t always that way. It may surprise you to know it, but water law is no joke. After all, it really is the most valuable resource on the planet.

Illegal Diversion

Water law in many states favors the “downstream user” and anyone who interferes with water flow to this person can be charged with creating an illegal diversion of water. In a nutshell, this is what made rain barrels illegal in Colorado until 2009. 

The thinking was, if person A catches and uses water that would naturally flow to person B, then A is interfering with B’s water rights. Pretty wild, eh? And, here’s the important thing: You can still get in trouble for this today if you divert too much water.

Health Concerns

The other reason states feel it’s necessary to interfere with the collection of free water that falls from the sky is that it may not always be portable, or safe to drink. The assumption is that if it hasn’t touched the ground yet then it’s clean, and for the most part that’s true.

The problem is that people are not always the most sanitary when it comes to collection. The rain barrel may be contaminated, or animals, insects, and debris may contaminate it over time and make it dangerous to drink. The question then becomes what is easier to regulate – clean collection methods or the collection itself.

Again, nowadays collection is deemed legal, within reason. But it still pays to be cautious about drinking rainwater that hasn’t been filtered or boiled… or both.

As rainwater collection is marginalized, it is illegal in some states like Colorado, where a principle known as prior appropriation is written into the state constitution to protect existing water rights. So, is collecting rainwater illegal? In that instance, yes.

This is a natural resource that the environment, quite literally, dumps on our heads. It is estimated that a 1000 square foot roof will collect 600 gallons of water from a 1-inch rain storm.

Wasting Rainwater

And yet, this precious liquid is a free resource that we can’t get rid of fast enough. What lands on the roofs, roads, and sidewalks in a city of thousands of buildings is promptly carried by gutters and then storm drains underground.

From there the runoff is dumped into the nearest body of water having gathered a myriad of pollutants along the way. What was originally a relatively clean source of water that could be repurposed for residential or commercial use is discarded as a waste product.

Is Collecting Rainwater Illegal?

Well, there you have it, if you are thinking of collecting rainwater either for your domestic or commercial use, you might think twice. Knowing the water laws in your state will help you legally to harvest rainwater.

What are your thoughts on collecting or wasting rainwater? Did you already know the scenarios in which the answer to “is collecting rainwater illegal” is “yes”?

20 thoughts on “Is Collecting Rainwater Illegal?”

  1. I never this was a thing. Rainwater should be for everyone to use how they want. It shouldn’t be considered stealing since it came from the sky

  2. I can see where diverting a stream might affect others, but simply collecting rain water in any container should be perfectly legal! Water is precious and in the past we have had watering restrictions. I have two rain barrels for watering my plants.sometimes I put buckets out to catch more water. We should all remember how we depend on water for life!

  3. The rain is everyone’s! Lol!

    Your blog keeps changing, and I like all of the themes you choose. This one looks very professional.
    You go!

    1. Rain is communal – agree! Aw, I think all of the changes and long hours got the better of me finally with this cold. I’m sticking with this layout now though. Thanks for the nice feedback xx

  4. Not even me could make this up, I don’t know in what State you live but I would just throw a glass of water to all those lawmakers, do they get that bored to pass this dumb law?

    1. I’m in Canada but most of my readers are in the U.S. so that’s why it has an American focus. I could write a post on all of the strange laws in the world!

  5. Well, that’s interesting, in the context of where I currently live (water rights and the desert). There’s a rain barrel that was here when I moved in, I use it to irrigate a flowering bush that was planted by the unit owner. But we have a limited time for water rights (granted by the pueblo) which allows the compound to take water from the acequia for a precise minute limit for irrigation once a week. I wonder if the rainwater rule applies. We had a very dry winter last year, and the water rights were understandably, justifiably curtailed. It’s TMI, but I used my bathing water to irrigate the plant last year, instead of letting it drain away. If it’s dry this year, I’ll probably do the same thing. I don’t know enough about it to say for sure on that, but am now interested enough to look into it. I don’t do any irrigation other than the rain barrel, as I’m not the gardening/landscaping sort. I prefer to just let nature do its thang! LOL I love weeds, wildflowers, a lovely meadow full of waving grasses, pretty much everything the others in the compound eschews. (Here’s hoping I can someday have a wilding place of my own!)

    1. It sounds like you have an eco-friendly soul and I love that about you! You’re turning bath water into regeneration of plants and flowers. Let me know what you find out if you dig a bit further into the laws where you are – and if you write a new post about your findings then update me too. Now I’m curious too!

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