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Every now and again I notice in the various Facebook groups I frequent for homesteaders and off-gridders, people ask this question:
“IS IT ILLEGAL TO HARVEST RAINWATER?”
This is usually followed by a lot of very unresearched assumptions like:
“CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S ILLEGAL TO CATCH RAINWATER ON YOUR OWN ROOF IN AMERICA”
“SHAME WHAT THIS COUNTRY IS COMING TO. CAN’T CATCH WATER WITHOUT THE POLICE BANGING DOWN YOUR DOOR.”
“I’VE HEARD OF PEOPLE GETTING ARRESTED FOR CATCHING RAINWATER!”
And EVERY SINGLE TIME these threads come up I just smack my head at what people are willing to assume. So let me clear up a few things for anyone who believes those click-bait articles about people getting “arrested for living off the land”.
For reference, our family built our own home off the grid with our own hands. We run on solar power and provide all of the water for our home via rainwater catchment via our roof and fed into a 2400 gallon precast concrete cistern. You can read all about that system here.
First of all…
It is NOT illegal in the entire United States to harvest rainwater. In fact, the vast majority of states either have no laws about it or actively ENCOURAGE IT.
For starters, the federal government does not have an absolute right to create laws about rainwater harvesting. This is a state by state issue.
There are some states that have more restrictive building codes for rainwater systems. There are also some areas that it is extremely regulated as to how much you can collect and what you can use it for.
And it is true that some states, mainly out west, have laws regulating or in certain cases prohibiting the capture and usage of rainwater. Most of these laws are rooted in a deep history of property rights spanning decades or centuries in those states. There are also usually issues of water management due to the prevailing climate and topography of those states.
Otherwise, NO. It is NOT ILLEGAL.
How do I know if rainwater harvesting is legal in my area?
First, you can check the most official listing of rainwater laws by state by visiting The National Conference of State Legislatures. They only list states with statutes on the books but they provide links straight to relevant government websites for more information.
Second, Pioneer Water Tanks has one of the most comprehensive listings of laws (or lack thereof) for each state that I’ve found. I’m not an affiliate for them, but this list is one of the easiest to interpret and includes links to applicable state agency websites.
What if I want to build my own house and catch rainwater?
First: CHECK YOUR STATE LAWS. Again, you can find information here.
The National Conference of State Legislatures – a bit less comprehensive but an official source
Pioneer Water Tanks – Complete listing of current state statutes
But don’t rely only on the information you found on the internet. You need to do your due diligence and check in with your local code officials. Every state and even specific counties or cities might have their own separate rules about how a rainwater system should be constructed.
Moreover, it is vital that you build to code for your own safety and to guarantee the insurability and financial stability of your property.
Cover yourself by checking with your local building code officials BEFORE you spend thousands of dollars installing a system that isn’t viable.
Check your water rights.
While you’re at it, check your other property rights including timber and mineral rights. If, for example, you wanted to drill a well instead you might discover your water rights were sold by an owner years before you ever bought your property. You can usually check with your county clerk’s office, though that might be different from place to place.
If you’re looking to buy a property for building a homestead and you’re thinking of either going off the grid or at least doing some off-grid activities, check these resources as you plan:
To learn more about the basics of our rainwater harvesting system and what to consider for yours, check out The Basics of Rainwater Harvesting here.
Drilling a well to supplement is not a practical option for us, but many people choose to put one in. There are ways to DIY that job as well, which you can read more about here.
And if you want to know what happens to the water AFTER we use it, read more about that here!