Is It Really Illegal To Collect Rainwater?

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is collecting rainwater illegalI’ve seen some disturbing trends in the news lately that I’d like to take a minute and write about here at Believe it or not, this trend that I’m seeing is that some people are actually getting in trouble with the law for collecting rainwater on their own property. Sound bizarre? Well, to tell you the truth, I was absolutely shocked when I found out that depending on where you live, there may be laws on the books that make collecting rainwater illegal!

The most recent case that I’ve heard of really struck a chord with me because it happened right here in Oregon, my home state. I like to think of Oregon as being an environmentally conscious state that would embrace the idea of collecting and using rainwater to water plants but it seems that I may be wrong.

An Eagle point man was recently convicted of illegally harvesting rainwater and is expected to spend 30 days in jail plus three years probation! It seems that he has been fighting with the state over his right to collect rainwater for quite some time now. This turmoil has finally come to a head and he was charged and convicted on nine misdemeanor counts of collecting rainwater that fell from the sky and landed on his property. Apparently he collected and then stored this rainwater in three reservoirs that the county has ruled to be illegal. I’m not sure if the issue was the fact that his man made reservoirs weren’t legal where he lives or if the actual act of collecting the rainwater was illegal.

In 2008, a car dealership in Utah made news when they were informed that their efforts to collect rainwater for use in washing cars was illegal. Since Utah is the second driest state in the nation, the owner decided to be proactive and he started collecting rainwater on the roof of his car dealership. The water was then stored in a large underground cistern to later be used in a super efficient car washing system.

Here’s a video that talks about this issue in the state of Utah:

What Makes Rainwater Collection Illegal Anyway?

Well, it seems that the issue is really one of “water rights”. People have been feuding over who has the right to use water for hundreds of years. The issue seems to be that if you are collecting water that falls in the form of rain, that water doesn’t make it into the local groundwater or rivers and streams. Since you are holding the water in a rain barrel or cistern, officials consider this to be a form of “diverting” water much the same as if you were to dam up a creek and divert the water to fill up your own private fishing pond that you dug on your property.

Let me give you an example of how this whole issue of water rights works. Let’s imagine that you are a farmer and you own 1,000 acres. Since you need water to be a farmer, you likely own certain rights to use water from wells, canals, or reservoirs as part of your farming operation. Whenever it rains, mother nature takes its course and the rainwater makes its way into the groundwater, canals, and reservoirs. Since you own the right to use a portion of that water for the purpose of irrigating your crops, “technically” anyone who does something to prevent the water that you have the rights to from making its way to you is considered diverting water.

As mentioned in the video above, there are big fish and there are little fish in this game. It makes sense that diverting a large amount of water into a man made reservoir is likely going to attract attention from officials. That being said, I have a hard time believing that someone with a 50 gallon rain barrel attached to their rain gutters would actually be hauled in for questioning from the water authorities.

How Can You Find Out The Laws In Your Area?

Western states such as Utah, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have laws on the books that regulate a person’s legal right to collect and use rainwater. So, before you head on down to your local hardware store and start building your own rainwater harvesting system, you’d be smart to contact your local city or county offices to find out if doing so is going to make you an outlaw.

You may find that a permit is all that is needed or you may find that there are restrictions on how much water you are allowed to collect. Either way, it’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, I’m sure that last thing you need is to be arrested for illegally collecting rainwater.

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