You’ve likely heard that, in some parts of the United States, collecting rainwater is illegal. How can someone claim water that falls from the sky, and onto your roof? And, if this is the case, is your rain barrel illegal?
The idea that you cannot save and use the water that falls on your land goes back to the days of the Wild West. The legal term for this is prior appropriation. Luckily, many states are making changes to this old way of thinking, but here’s what you need to know.
Understanding Prior Appropriation
So, who came up with the idea that you can own water before it even falls to the earth? Well, according to the Washington Post, prior appropriation is deeply embedded in Western water law. Essentially, when you staked a claim, you owned the water as well as the land. It was a first-come, first-serve basis.
However, you could not claim rainwater. Though it might fall on your roof, it’s possible that the water wouldn’t end its journey on your property. It might go into the ground, and find its way into an aquifer that went to someone else’s land. In this case, you were stopping others from getting their water, even if it fell on your land. By this logic, it’s acceptable to drill a well on your land, because the water is on your property. But collecting rainwater is forbidden.
Is that ridiculous? Yes, which is why so many states have repealed these laws, or are engaged in legal battles over them.
What Can You Do?
If you’re thinking of rainwater harvesting, be sure to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state. Several states have already made headway in reversing these laws, but better safe than sorry.
If you live in an area with no prior appropriation laws, feel free to set up your rain barrel! If you really want to go green, you can even set up a filtration system to make that water potable. However, if there are laws keeping you from collecting rainwater on your property, it’s best to dig in your heels and start navigating the system.
Yes, there are some exceptions that you may be able to take advantage of. For example, in some western states like Colorado, there are regulations on how much rainwater a homeowner may store on their property at any given time. Though it’s not an ideal solution, the devil is often in the details when it comes to what you can, and can’t, do with your rainwater.
In any case, be sure to do your research before setting up your rainwater harvesting system. Though it’s likely your state has made changes to the old ways, knowing whether your rain barrel is illegal will help you avoid potential problems with the law.