(KRQE/NEXSTAR) — It may seem like the most natural thing to do, even a great use of rainwater: collecting it. But did you know it could be illegal to do it in your state?
While collecting rainwater is not federally illegal, many states have restrictions in place, and water laws are primarily handled at the state level. Alternatively, some states even offer incentives for those who collect rainwater.
Where are there rainwater collection restrictions?
States that have some level of rainwater collection restrictions include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Kansas and North Dakota may require a permit to harvest rainwater. In all states not listed above, it is legal to collect rainwater.
The World Water Reserve published a full state-by-state guide to explain which states are and aren’t allowed to harvest rainwater. The U.S. Department of Energy also has an interactive Rainwater Harvesting Regulations map to help residents figure out if it’s OK to fill up a barrel or a bucket.
Why do some states restrict water collection?
Since water availability varies greatly throughout the U.S., each state needs to adjust its water use practices based on its climate. According to WWR, most states follow the reasonable use doctrine to determine restrictions; the doctrine states that “anyone who has a right to the water can reasonably use it for their own benefit as long as it doesn’t restrict the rights of others to use it as well.”
The main reason some states restrict collection is that too much rainwater harvesting can disrupt the cycle of rainfall seeping back into the earth. It is recommended to check your state’s laws regarding water use for further details.
In the state of New Mexico, it is perfectly legal and even encouraged to collect rainwater. In Albuquerque, the water authority even offers rebates based on the amount of rain that can be stored in each rain barrel. Amounts range between $25 for 50-149 gallons to $150 for 1,500+ gallons.
A different New Mexico city, Santa Fe, also offers rebates for rainwater collection in both small and large quantities. Rebates range from $12 for 50-99 gallons to $50 for 200-499 gallons.
There may be restrictions regarding incentives in these and any areas that have such offers in place.
Why collect rainwater?
As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are many practical uses for rainwater, including watering plants that aren’t intended to be food.
While rainwater can potentially be used for bathing and even drinking, the CDC warns that you should never assume rainwater is safe to consume since it can naturally contain germs and other contaminants.
In general, it’s recommended you don’t use consume it if you have another option.
Nevertheless, the CDC explains there are options to help make rainwater safer, including filtration systems, chemical disinfection and boiling.
Another risk to be aware of when collecting or storing any rainwater is that the container could become a mosquito breeding site. As explained by North Carolina State University, adult female mosquitoes can lay eggs in even small amounts of standing water. Eggs only need about 24-48 hours to hatch.
Steps to prevent this include placing a screen over the water inlet and emptying containers at least every 10 days, the CDC says. NC State University also recommends that those who use rainwater harvesting systems (RWH) systems make sure entry points are tightly fitted and/or sealed and even have extra design implements that prevent overflow.