Droughts, water supply worries and population changes serve as catalysts for states to consider legislation related to water conservation and alternative sources of water including rainwater harvesting. State legislatures have considered bills to allow, define and clarify when, where and how rainwater harvesting may occur. Rainwater harvesting is commonly defined as the act of utilizing a system to collect and use rainwater for outdoor uses, plumbing, and, in some cases, consumption. Rainwater collection or rainwater catchment are other terms used to refer to this practice.
State legislatures consider factors, such as water rights, quality standards and public health, that rainwater harvesting may impact. In some states, especially in the West, water laws stated that all precipitation belonged to existing water-rights owners, and that rain needs to flow to join its rightful water drainage. Legislators also must ensure water quality standards and public health concerns are met when considering rainwater harvesting legislation. For example, collected rainwater may be used for non-potable purposes (e.g., watering indoor or outdoor plants) but may be restricted for potable purposes (e.g., drinking water).
Texas and Ohio have devoted considerable attention to this issue and have enacted several laws regulating rainwater harvesting. (See list below for some examples.) Texas and Ohio allow rainwater harvesting for potable purposes, a practice that is frequently excluded from other states’ laws and regulations. Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia offer tax credits or exemptions on the purchase of rainwater harvesting equipment. Oklahoma passed the Water for 2060 Act in 2012 to promote pilot projects for rainwater and graywater use among other water conservation approaches.
Rainwater Harvesting in Colorado
Water in Colorado must be allotted according to the prior appropriation system. This is a common system in the West and is often referred to as “first in time, first in right”. Under the doctrine of prior appropriation, individuals have the right to put water to a beneficial use based on priority of the user. Non-priority use of a water source may carry penalties.
The collection of rainwater for beneficial use was recognized as a potential injury to senior water rights and was historically prohibited in Colorado. However, a 2007 study conducted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), nearby districts and Douglas County determined that only three percent of rain actually reached a stream or the groundwater. Colorado followed up by enacting two pieces of legislation in 2009 – one allowing certain types of well owners to use rainwater (Senate Bill 80) and one authorizing pilot development projects (House Bill 1129). With House Bill 1129 (enacted in 2009), the legislature directed the CWCB to establish criteria and guidelines for the authorized pilot projects. The CWCB developed and approved these criteria and guidelines in January 2010. Further updates were directed by House Bill 1016 in 2015 and were approved in January 2016.
Under a new Colorado law, House Bill 1005 (2016), residential homeowners are now able to use two rain barrels, with a combined capacity of 110 gallons, to capture precipitation from their rooftops. The collected precipitation is required to be used on the property where it is collected and may only be applied to outdoor purposes such as lawn irrigation and gardening. The law guarantees collection of precipitation from rain barrels does not interfere with existing water rights and that the use of a rain barrel does not constitute a water right. The state engineer is required to track adoption and usage among homeowners.
See the Colorado Division of Water Resources webpage for more information.
The following information lists recent legislation, statutes, programs and other resources in specific states. Please see the NCSL Energy and Environment Legislation Tracking Database for bills related to water conservation and water supply/planning.
State Rainwater Harvesting Laws and Programs
Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Hawaii | Illinois | Nevada | New Jersey | North Carolina | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Rhode Island | Texas | Utah | Virginia | Washington | U.S. Virgin Islands
House Bill 2363 (2012) established a joint legislative study committee on macro-harvested water. The committee shall study, analyze and evaluate issues arising from the collection and recovery of macro-harvested water, including reviewing scientific data on surface water, rainwater harvesting, methodology costs and benefits, potential impacts on water rights, downstream users, and potential aquifer management issues and groundwater management issues.
House Bill 2830 (2012) allows the governing body of a city or town to establish an energy and water savings account that consists of a designated pool of capital investment monies to fund energy or water savings projects in public facilities, including rainwater harvesting systems (Arizona Revised Statutes §9-499.16).
The General Assembly enacted legislation in 2014 that directed the State Board of Health “…allow the use of a harvested rainwater system used for a non-potable purpose if the harvested rainwater system is: (1) designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas; (2) is designed with appropriate cross-connection safeguards; and (3) complies with Arkansas Plumbing Code” (Arkansas Code Annotated § 17-38-201).
Assembly Bill 1750 (2012) enacted the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. The bill authorizes residential, commercial and governmental landowners to install, maintain, and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems for specified purposes, provided that the systems comply with specified requirements. A landscape contractor working within the classification of his or her license would be authorized enter into a prime contract for the construction of a rainwater capture system if the system is used exclusively for landscape irrigation.
In 2009, two laws were passed that loosened restrictions. Senate Bill 80 (2009) allowed residential property owners who rely on certain types of wells to collect and use rainwater (Colo. Rev. Stat. §37-90-105). House Bill 1129 (2009) authorized ten pilot projects where captured precipitation was used in new real estate developments for non-potable uses (Colo. Rev. Stat. §37-60-115).House Bill 1016 (2015) updates criteria and guidelines for rainwater harvesting pilot projects with the goal of incentivizing applicants, and applies lessons learned from previous pilot projects.House Bill 1016 (2015) updates criteria and guidelines for rainwater harvesting pilot projects with the goal of incentivizing applicants, and applies lessons learned from previous pilot projects.
House Bill 16-1005 (2016) allows residential homeowners to use two rain barrels, with a combined capacity of 110 gallons, to capture preciptation from their rooftops. The collected precipitation is required to be used on the property where it is collected, and may only be applied to outdoor purposes such as lawn irrigation and gardening.
Additional Resources: Colorado Water Conservation Board Criteria and Guidelines for Pilot Projects (2016)
Senate Concurrent Resolution 172 (2008) encouraged county water boards to study and promote water conservation through rainwater collection. According to this resolution, there has been a long history of rainwater collection in the state but primarily in more rural areas in the past.
In 2009, Illinois created the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act which relates to water conservation, efficiency, infrastructure and management while promoting rainwater harvesting (Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 415 §56).
House Bill 991 (2011) amended the Homeowners' Solar Rights Act. It requires that within 120 days after a homeowners' association, common interest community association, or condominium unit owners' association receives a request for a policy statement or an application from an association member, the association shall adopt an energy policy statement regarding: the location, design, and architectural requirements of solar energy systems; and whether a wind energy collection, rain water collection, or composting system is allowed, and, if so, the location, design, and architectural requirements of those systems (Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 765 § 165/20).
Assembly Bill 198 (2015) requires the Legislative Committee on Public Lands to conduct a study on water conservation and alternative sources of water for communities in the State. The study includes a comprehensive review of alternative sources of water, including capturing rainwater amongst other things.
Assembly Bill 2442 (2017, pending) requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a Capture, Control, and Conserve Reward Rebate Program. This program will use funds appropriated for water conservation to provide rebates for property owners who implement eligible water capture, control or conserve techniques on their property. The rebate amount will be based in part on the amount of impervious cover on the property and the effectiveness of the selected capture, control and conserve techniques.
House Bill 609 (2011) directs the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to provide statewide outreach and technical assistance regarding water efficiency, which includes the development of best management practices for community water efficiency and conservation. Best management practices include water reuse, including harvesting rainwater and using grey water.
Senate Bill 163 (2014) recognizes the beneficial uses of reclaimed water, including rainwater, for the future water supply of the state.
Ohio allows rainwater harvesting including for potable purposes. Private water systems that provide drinking water to fewer than twenty-five people are regulated by the Ohio Department of Health (Ohio Rev. Code §3701.344). Ohio also had a Private Water Systems Advisory Council, which the General Assembly repealed in 2016 (House Bill 471).
House Bill 3055 (2012) created the Water for 2060 Act. The bill initiates grants for water conservation pilot projects, to serve as models for other communities in the state. Pilot projects may include, but are not limited to: community conservation demonstration projects, water use accounting programs, retrofit projects, school education projects, Xeriscape demonstration gardens, projects which promote efficiency, recycling and reuse of water, and information campaigns on capturing and using harvested rainwater and gray water.
Additional Resources: Oklahoma Water Resources Board – Water for 2060
Rainwater harvesting is allowed in Oregon, but may only be done from roof surfaces. Oregon allows for alternate methods of construction of rainwater harvesting systems (Or. Rev. Stat. §455.060). The Oregon Building Codes Division (BCD) has approved the use of rainwater harvesting systems as an alternate method to the state plumbing code and created methods for both potable and non-potable systems.
Senate Bill 79 (2009) directs the BCD to increase energy efficiency by including rainwater harvesting, in new and repaired buildings.
Additional Resources: Oregon Smart Guide - Rainwater Harvesting
House Bill 7070 (2012) created a tax credit for the installation of cisterns to collect rainwater. Any individual or business that installs a cistern on their property to collect rainwater for use in their home or business is entitled to a state income tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of installing the cistern not to exceed $1,000. Each entity is allowed only one tax credit over the life of the cistern unless they are replacing an existing cistern with a larger cistern and have not received the maximum tax credit of $1,000. A cistern is defined as a container holding fifty or more gallons of diverted rainwater or snow melt, either above or below ground (Rhode Island General Laws § 44-30-28).
House Bill 3391 (2011) is a comprehensive piece of legislation regarding rainwater harvesting, amends several sections of code and includes provisions for:
Utah allows for the direct capture and storage of rainwater on land owned or leased by the person responsible for the collection. According to Senate Bill 32 (2010), a person registered with the Division of Water Resources may collect and store no more than 2,500 gallons of rainwater. If unregistered, no more than two containers may be used, and the maximum storage capacity of any one container shall not be greater than 100 gallons (Utah Code Ann. §73-3-1.5).
Senate Bill 1416 (2001) establishes the Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund, which provides an income tax credit to individuals and corporations installing rainwater harvesting systems. However, money has not been allocated for these purposes.
Virginia also requires the development of rainwater harvesting and graywater guidelines to ease demands on public treatment works and water supply systems and to promote conservation (Va. Code § 32.1-248.2).
Washington allows counties to reduce rates for stormwater control facilities that utilize rainwater harvesting. Depending on the county, rates may be reduced by a minimum of 10 percent or more for any new or remodeled commercial building (Wash. Rev. Code §36.89.080) Kitsap County’s Ordinance reduces surface and stormwater fees by 50 percent.
The Washington Department of Ecology issued an Interpretive Policy Statement in 2009 clarifying a water right is not required for rooftop rainwater harvesting and provides additional resources.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Since 1964, the U.S. Virgin Islands requires most buildings to be constructed with a self-sustaining potable water system, such as a well or rainwater collection system (U.S. Virgin Island Code Title 29 §308).
Notable 2016 Legislation
||AB 2040 (Failed)
||Amends the Revenue and Taxation Code to allow for tax credits (equal to 25% of amount paid or incurred) for water-efficiency improvements including a rain barrel or an alternative collection system as part of a water-efficient landscape.
||AB 2525 (Failed)
||Requires the Department of Water Resources to create the California Water Efficient Landscaping Program. Includes a residential turf rebate program, a jobs program and public education as part of the new program. Creates the Water Efficiency Landscaping Fund with money made available to the program through appropriations.
||HB 1005 (Enacted)
||Allows the use of rain barrels to collect precipitation from residential rooftops for nonpotable outdoor use. Permits no more than two rain barrels with a combined storage capacity of 110 gallons or less. Defines rain barrel as “a storage container with a sealable lid that is: a) located aboveground outside of a residential home; and b) used for collecting precipitation from a downspout of a rooftop.”
Requires the State Engineer to provide information on the permitted use of rain barrels to collect participation from residential rooftops, including the limitations set forth in these provisions.
||HB 2042 (Failed
||Establishes a water conservation rebate program. Includes rain barrels or cisterns in the definition of water conservation systems
||HB 4659 (Pending)
||Amends the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Act and provides that the District may establish a Residential Cost Share Program.
Cisterns and residential rain gardens are included as part of the Program.
||AB 2442 / SB 1037 (Pending)
||Establishes the Capture, Control, and Conserve Reward Rebate Program in the Department of Environmental Protection to “encourage property owners to implement various approved techniques to help conserve water and control the quantity and quality of storm water runoff from their individual properties.” Includes rain gardens, rain barrels and cisterns as eligible techniques.
||AB 9890 (Pending)
||Amends the tax law to add a tax credit (up to 50 percent of the construction cost, not exceeding $5,000) for homeowners and businesses who invest in green infrastructure. Includes rainwater harvesting, raingardens, permeable pavements and green roofs as possible green infrastructure investments.
||SB 2417 / HB 1850 (Enacted)
||Authorizes the use of green infrastructure practices within areas that have combined sanitary sewage and storm water systems. Expands the definition of sewage system to include green infrastructure practices such as rain gardens and cisterns.
Notable 2015 Legislation
||AB 725 (Pending – Carryover)
||Required the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt a policy to address the potential for a storm-induced overflow from an impoundment in which recycled water is stored for subsequent beneficial use or aesthetic purposes.
||HB 1259 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Allows for the use of rain barrels to collect precipitation from a residential rooftop for nonpotable outdoor uses.
||SB 280 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Reintroduces Water Harvesting Tax Income to incentivize individuals and businesses to collect rainwater for future uses. Income tax credit will not exceed $5,000.
||HB 74 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Creates a Model Water Recycling Project to study potential of capturing and recycling runoff.
||SB 1419 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Exempts property owners from licensing requirements for the installation, service or repair of plumbing associated with rainwater harvesting, storage, distribution, use or treatment.
||TX HB 3837 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Relates to the licensing and regulations of rainwater harvesting in the state.
Notable 2014 Legislation
||HB 111/SB 361 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Creates the Sustainable Research Living Act aimed at researching sustainable living methods including water harvesting techniques.
||AB 1738 (Pending)
||Establishes Capture, Control, and Conserve Reward Rebate Program. This bill would establish several incentives for installation and operation of a rainwater capture system and prohibiting any fees or taxation related to the purchase, installation and use of these systems.
||SB 16 (Failed – Adjourned)
||Establishes the Water Harvesting Income Tax Credits to incentivize individuals and businesses to collect rainwater for future uses. Income tax credit will not exceed $5,000.
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