In 2020, the world as a collective experienced one of the most disruptive pandemics in modern history. Throughout history, nothing has caused more human deaths than disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Not even a natural disaster – not even war. The global disruption caused by COVID-19 forced us to stay home and rethink how we live our lives. We have changed our perception about the importance of a hygienic environment and have incorporated a more hygienic lifestyle. Beyond ourselves, it has brought about several effects on the environment and the climate. As the effects of the virus spread throughout the world, it has become increasingly clear that people in the most vulnerable areas with the least access to essential services felt the most dramatic effects.

Major health organizations, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), advise frequent and proper handwashing for at least 20 seconds to prevent outbreaks. Frequent and proper handwashing is the most basic defense against disease-carrying bacteria and viruses. However, a quarter of the world’s population or 3 billion people lack access to basic handwashing facilities at home, specifically, a reliable water supply. This a far cry from the aspirations of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by the year 2030. The Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SGD 6) aspiration is led by the Department of Economics and Social Affairs of the United Nations. With the onslaught of the pandemic, water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030.  

The pandemic has heightened our awareness of the extent and the consequences of the gap in access to a clean water supply. As we slowly progress to attaining SDG 6, it is incumbent upon us to find creative and ingenious ways to conserve and preserve water.

Water Security

Across developing countries, water insecurity is increasing. Two out of five individuals do not have access to handwashing facilities that serve as the frontline defense against diseases. To be prepared to face another pandemic, we must strengthen our water security. Even before COVID-19, the world is already facing issues with water demand, stress, and scarcity. This is due to the increasing world population, urbanization, changes in land use, and climate change. The global water demand is increasing at roughly 1% per annum and with climate change altering the global water cycle, the availability of clean water will likely become unpredictable. With the pandemic reinforcing the need for access to clean water for health, food, and nutrition security, it is high time that we integrate innovative ways of conserving and preserving water.

Water serves as a crucial link between society and the environment. It is at the core of sustainable development and critical to human survival. all life on earth needs water to survive. We use water for drinking, cleaning, bathing, generating energy, agriculture, industrial activity, and so much more. In 2015, water use in America was approximately 322 billion gallons per day. During the same year, 87% of the country’s population relied on public water for their water supply, while the remaining population relied on domestic wells. But for water to be safe for human consumption, it required treatment before use.

The drinking water goes through a specific treatment process before it can be considered potable or drinkable water. It is reassuring to know that the country’s drinking water supplies are among the safest in the world. However, there is always a danger that it may become contaminated. Contamination may cause sickness and disease due to waterborne germs and other pathogens. This is the reason why drinking water requires appropriate treatment to eliminate and remove disease-causing particles that may contaminate our water source. Public water systems in the country also use various water treatment methods to ensure everyone has access to safe drinking water. 

Community water systems are the main source of drinking water in American households. Water from this source goes through the following treatment:

  • Coagulation and Flocculation are the initial steps in the water treatment process. During these steps, chemicals having a positive charge are added to the water. Because of the positive charge of these chemicals, the dirt and other particles, or the negative charge, in the water are neutralized. During the process of neutralization of charges, the particles bind with the chemicals to form larger particles. These larger particles are called floc. 
  • Sedimentation occurs next. During sedimentation, the floc, due to its weight, settles to the bottom of the water supply. This will make the next process easier.
  • Filtration comes after sedimentation. After the floc has completely settled to the bottom, water will pass through various filtration systems to remove minute particles. These include dust, bacteria, parasite, viruses, and other chemicals that did not settle during sedimentation. 
  • Disinfection is the last process of the water treatment process. During disinfection, a disinfectant may be added to the water supply to eliminate the remaining pathogens. This will make the water safe for human consumption in communities, households, and businesses. 

Depending on the source and the community, water may be treated differently. Surface water requires more treatment or filtration than groundwater since it is more likely to contain more contaminants than groundwater. Despite access to water from public water systems, many American households receive their water from private water systems, including water wells and rainwater collection. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the supply of public drinking water. Still, its regulations do not apply to privately owned wells or individual water systems, including rainwater collection. This leaves private individuals responsible for ensuring that their water is safe for human consumption and from contaminants.

Rainwater Collection: Alternative Water Source

Rainwater collection is an ideal means of conserving water and ultimately reducing household utility costs. Rain is a naturally occurring resource. By installing simple and straightforward systems at home, we can conserve a vital resource – water.

Rainwater harvesting or collection is a method of gathering potable water that has been in the earth’s atmosphere for thousands of years. The concept of rainwater harvesting is relatively new in the United States, but evidence shows that the method has been used in India, Brazil, and China since the 3rd millennium. Harvesting and collecting rainwater was mainly done for supplying drinking water in semi-arid areas. It was also done to irrigate farmlands while catching intermittent rainfall between life and death for some communities in hotter climates. As we face the consequences of greater urbanization, we are returning to ancient ways of living our lives and embracing green living.

Rainwater Harvesting

Runoff rainwater from our roofs, yards, gutters, and other open urban areas can be harvested and collected for various other uses. Admittedly, this unconventional technology is now used to overcome the increasing demand for water as the effects of climate change becoming more visible. What was previously seen as unconventional has since become a common practice in the United States. The decreasing supply of available freshwater rainwater is an attractive alternative for conserving water for potable and non-potable uses. Countries like Korea, Bangladesh, and Australia are using this method to alleviate the scarce water resource. 

Harvesting, conservation, and reuse of rainwater are all sustainable practices by which we can increase water availability in our homes. Collecting rainwater also eliminates the risk of flood. The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) recognizes rainwater harvesting systems as an ideal alternative water technology commercially available in the United States. It is relevant to federal facilities that could significantly offset freshwater use. Any sustainable water source not supplied from freshwater of community water systems is a great resource to balance the demand for freshwater. FEMP provides us with a list of systems component that must be included in a rainwater harvesting system:

  • Collection system: roof surface and gutters that will capture and collect the rainwater and allow it to flow to the storage system
  • Inlet filter: screen filter that will catch and filter out large debris
  • First flush diverter: a diverter or a narrower filter that will filter out the debris that was not captured by the screen filter or the inlet filter from the initial stream of rainwater
  • Storage tank: made of a food-grade polyester resin material that is U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved and is specifically colored green, which helps reduce the growth of bacteria in the water and tank
  • Overflow: drainage spout attached to the storage system that allows for overflow when the tank gets full
  • Controls: control system that allows users to monitor water level as well as the filtration system
  • Treatment system: a specialized filtration and disinfection system that will treat the collected rainwater to non-potable or potable standards
  • Pump: a component that will move water from the tank to where it will be used
  • Backflow prevention: the tank needs a backflow preventer as it will ensure that water cannot flow backward when the tank is under negative pressure
  • Flow meter: measures the water production that also includes a data logger
  • Power supply: rainwater harvesting systems use either conventional power sources to continually supply power to the system 
  • Water level indicator: the indicator shows the water level stored in the storage tank

Compliance with all these systems components will make your rainwater harvesting systems in their ideal condition. When planning for your systems, here are a few things to consider:

  • End Use: one of the most important consideration, the intended end use of all the harvested rainwater, will determine the kind of treatment equipment you need to install in the system
  • Site location: naturally, you need to place the rainwater harvesting system at a site where you get adequate rainfall. You can use the Rainwater Availability Map for more information.
  • Applications: when choosing your site location, make sure to position it where it is easily accessible and for multiple applications, like vehicle wash, dust suppression, and irrigation.
  • Size of catchment area (roof size): The amount of water your storage can collect will depend on the size of the catchment area or the roof size you will install. The larger roof area can capture larger amounts of rainwater, even in areas where there is limited rainfall. 
  • Rainwater storage capacity: If you are in areas where you get frequent rainfall with heavy precipitation, you should opt for a larger storage capacity. While if you are in an area with less frequent rainfall, a smaller storage capacity. A smaller tank size means less expensive, whereas a larger tank size will increase equipment cost.
  • Roof pitch and type: These influence the amount of rainwater that you can collect. A lower-pitched roof tends to collect more water than its steeply pitched counterparts. Lower-pitched roofs tend to catch more water than steeply pitched roofs. In terms of surface texture, smoother roof textures allow better runoff compared to textured roofs. 
  • Water rates: If you are in an area with higher water rates, your rainwater harvesting project will be more economically viable. 
  • Permits: The federal government does not currently regulate rainwater harvesting, so it is under state jurisdiction. You need to check your local or state government to ensure that you get a proper and complete permit before moving forward with the installation of your rainwater harvesting system.

Rainwater Harvesting Laws in the United States

Worries about water supply, drought, and population density changes are only some of the factors why states have pushed for legislation concerning water conservation and alternative water sources, specifically rainwater. The broad concept of these legislations is to allow, define, and clarify the methodology and the site of rainwater harvesting systems. The most common definition of rainwater harvesting is utilizing a system to collect and use rainwater for various uses, which includes consumption. 

State legislation considers water rights, quality standards, and public health impacted by rainwater harvesting. In the West, all precipitation belongs to the existing water-rights owners. For the rain to be included in your water-rights, it needs to flow in its rightful water drainage. Water quality is a public health issue and is so impressed with legislators’ public interest that legislators consider drafting and passing rainwater harvesting legislation. This includes how collected rainwater may reach quality for potable purposes.

Of the 50 states in the United States, 48 states have limited to no regulations. Colorado and Utah are the only two states that heavily regulate rainwater harvesting and the use of rainwater that falls within their property. Texas and Ohio have also devoted considerable attention to rainwater harvesting, enacting several laws that regulate rainwater harvesting and collection. Also, Texas and Ohio even allow rainwater to be used for potable purposes. The use of rainwater for potable purposes is often excluded in many states. Tax credits or exemptions are offered in Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia, making the practice and purchase of rainwater harvesting equipment more attractive to homeowners. In 2012, Oklahoma passed the Water for 2020 Act to promote pilot projects for rainwater and gray water use.

In a series of articles, we aim to provide you with valuable information about the various rainwater harvesting laws in the United States. Below explains the laws and regulations of rainwater harvesting in all of the U.S. 50 states:

StateState Laws and Regulation on Rainwater HarvestingRegulating AgencyRelevant Resources (Technical and Regulation)
AlabamaNo regulationA&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension Office Rainwater Harvesting for Irrigation 
AlaskaNo regulationCold Climate Housing Research Center guidance on rainwater harvesting 
ArizonaNo strict state regulationRegulated through the Department of Water ResourcesArizona Legislation HB 2830 Arizona Legislation HB 2363Arizona Department of Water Resources
ArkansasNo strict state regulationRegulated through the State Board of HealthState Board of Health
CaliforniaNo strict state regulationRegulated through the Division of Water RightsCalifornia Constitution, Water Code, Division 6, Part 2.4 Legislation – Assembly Bill-1750 Rainwater Capture Act of 2012 City of Berkeley guidance on rainwater harvesting systems San Francisco Water Power Sewer rainwater harvesting information 
Colorado Rainwater Harvesting is declared ILLEGAL; per household is allowed a maximum of 110 gallons of the rain storage tank Law HB-1005 permits residential properties of a single house or multi-family residencesSenate Bill 80 (2009)
House Bill 1129 (2009)
House Bill 1016 (2015)
House Bill 1016 (2015)
House Bill 16-1005 (2016)Colorado Division of Water Resources rainwater collection regulations and lawsColorado Legal Resources Public Access Colorado State University Extension – Rainwater Collection in ColoradoColorado Water Conservation Board Criteria and Guidelines for Pilot Projects (2016)
ConnecticutNo regulationConnecticut Stormwater Quality Manual (Chapter 4.4.4)
DelawareNo regulationUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension Office guidance on rainwater harvesting/rain barrels
Florida No regulationFlorida Water Star
GeorgiaNo strict state regulationRegulated through the U.S. Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division Income tax credit for installation of water-efficient equipment, including rainwaterRainwater harvesting guidelines
Hawaii No strict state regulationUnregulated, but the Department of Health takes point in providing a checklist for home useSenate Concurrent Resolution 172 (2008) Department of Health, Safe Drinking Water Branch rainwater catchment regulations Hawaii Rainwater Catchment Systems Program 
Idaho Collecting and harvesting runoff rainwater is LEGAL, save some exceptions.Clarification letter from Office of the Attorney GeneralUniversity of Idaho technical resources  
IllinoisNo strict state regulationRegulated by the local governmentHouse Bill 991 (2011)Plumbing-Rainwater Systems Bill SB0038City of Chicago Water Management – Sewer Construction and Stormwater Management Requirements (2016 Stormwater Manual and 2016 Stormwater Regulations)  
IndianaNo regulation
Iowa No regulationIowa Stormwater Education Program (Rainwater Harvesting; Helpful Resources – Rainwater Harvesting Brochure) 
KansasNo regulationKansas Department of Agriculture Water Law Basics 
KentuckyNo regulation
Louisiana No regulation
MaineNo regulation
MarylandNo regulationMaryland Green Registry guidance on water conservation and rainwater harvesting 
MassachusettsNo regulationIncome Tax Credit – Water ConservationRainwater harvesting demonstration  
MichiganNo regulation
MinnesotaNo strict state regulationRegulated through the Minnesota Plumbing Board Non-potable Rainwater Catchment SystemsMinnesota Pollution Control Agency rainwater harvesting document  
MississippiNo regulationMississippi State University – Water Conservation in Your Landscape 
Missouri No regulationMissouri Botanical Garden – Rainscaping GuideRainwater Harvesting Manual for Southwest Missouri  
Montana No regulationState technical resources on rainwater harvesting  
Nebraska No regulationUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension Office technical resources 
NevadaNo regulationAssembly Bill 198 (2015) Nevada Revised Statute: Chapter 533.027 – Adjudication of Vested Water Rights University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials 
New HampshireNo regulationState stormwater management manual information about rainwater barrels/cisternsMetropolitan Council Stormwater Reuse Guide  
New JerseyNo regulationAssembly Bill 2442 (2017, pending)
New Mexico – Some rainwater harvesting systems need a permit, but this state offers payable green building incentives such as rainwater harvesting.LEGAL, but with stringent requirements and permits, New Mexico offers green building incentives, including a rainwater harvesting system.Regulated through the State Engineer OfficeOffice of the State Engineer guidance on rainwater harvestingRoof-Reliant Landscaping 
New YorkNo regulationGrow NYC technical resourcesNew York State Rainwater Harvesting Guide  
North CarolinaENCOURAGED due to State’s water conservation efforts Regulated through the U.S. Department of Environment and Natural Resources House Bill 609 (2011) Senate Bill 163 (2014)North Carolina General Statute 143Session Law 2009-243 North Carolina Environmental Quality – Stormwater Design Manual Save Water NC Community Conservation Assistance Program  
North DakotaNo regulation
OhioLEGAL, provided that strict codes and regulations are complied with.Regulated through the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency House Bill 471Ohio Department of Health Private Water Systems ProgramOhio Environmental Protection AgencyRules for private water systems 
OklahomaNo regulationWater for 2060 Act – House Bill 3055 Oklahoma Water Resources Board – Water for 2060 Oklahoma Water Resources Center Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Office guidance on designing rainwater harvesting systems Great Plains Low Impact Development
Oregon – Rainwater harvesting is legal, but only using rooftop surfaces.LEGAL, but limited to collecting runoff rainwater from the roof surfaceRegulated through the Water Resources Department Senate Bill 79 (2009)Water Resources Department (search rainwater harvesting)Oregon Plumbing Specialty Code Oregon Rainwater Harvesting Smart Guide
PennsylvaniaNo regulationPenn State Extension information on rainwater cisterns 
Rhode IslandNo regulationHouse Bill 7070 (2012)University of Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions State of Rhode Island – Tax Credit 
South CarolinaNo regulationClemson University rainwater information National Estuarine Research Reserve report on low-impact development, guidance on rainwater harvesting 
South DakotaNo regulation
TennesseeNo strict state regulationTennessee Permanent Stormwater Management and Design Guidance Manual 
TexasENCOURAGED; tax incentives are offered in selected counties.  Regulated through Water Development Board House Bill 3391 (2011)Water Development Board Texas Water Development Board rainwater harvesting resources Texas A&M Agrilife Extension 
UtahLEGAL, but limited to 2,500 gallons and requires a permit. Regulated through the Division of Water Rights Senate Bill 32 (2010)Utah State Legislature Title 73, Chapter 3, Section 1.5 Division of Water Rights rainwater harvesting registration Utah State University Cooperative Extension Office information on rainwater harvesting in Utah 
VermontNo strict state regulationRegulated through the Department of Environmental Conservation – 2017 Vermont Stormwater Management Manual Rule 2017 Vermont Stormwater Management Manual Rule and Design Guidance
VirginiaNo strict state regulationRegulated through the state legislature and state plumbing code Senate Bill 1416 (2001)Code of Virginia: Use of rainwater and reuse of gray water; regulationsVirginia Plumbing Code The Cabell Brand Center (Virginia Rainwater Harvesting Manual, 2nd Edition 2009) Virginia Tech and Virginia State University Cooperative Extension Office technical resources Virginia Rainwater Harvesting Manual 
WashingtonNo strict state regulationRegulated through the Department of Ecology Department of Ecology guidance on rainwater collectionWashington State Legislature King County information about rain barrels  
West VirginiaNo regulationState manual on stormwater quality guidance on rainwater harvesting 
WisconsinNo regulation
WyomingNo regulation
Washington, D.C. No strict state regulationRegulated through plumbing code District of Columbia Plumbing Code (Chapter 11 Storm Drainage) District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (Section 3.3)