Rainwater collection—also known as rainwater harvesting—is a centuries-old practice that’s becoming popular among rural and urban residents alike. It helps utilize freely available water, as well as helps with conservation, and less water taken from a main water supply. Water that comes from rain is in its purest form, and is generally free of pollutants. That is, until it touches a surface.
What about in Hawaii, where it rains so much? Paia gets an average of 24 inches of rainfall every year, below the US average of 38 inches. Maui has a “wet side” and a “dry side,” but the dry side is far from a desert.
But in some states, collecting rainwater has become a controversy as well as potentially illegal. So can you collect rainwater?
Benefits Of Rainwater Collection
The process is simple: collect rainwater when it falls, properly store it, purify it if necessary (especially for drinking water), and use it as needed.
In areas that have an abundance of rainfall, artificial recharging can restore groundwater to its previous levels.
Collecting rainwater offers multiple benefits, including:
- Reducing your monthly water bill
- Decrease demand for ground water
- Decrease soil erosion and flooding
- Divert non-potable (drinkable) water for other purposes, such as:
- Garden watering
- Washing laundry, cars, etc.
- Flushing toilets
- Other uses where drinkable water isn’t necessary
Since drinking water isn’t readily renewable, collecting and using other water reduces waste and helps to better utilize this resource, saving more potable water.
Harvesting rainwater can also help industries conduct business without depleting potable water supplies nearby.
Why Would Collecting Rainwater Be Illegal?
In coastal areas like Texas and Louisiana, and parts of Hawaii, where it frequently rains and experiences heavy tropical weather, it’s hard to imagine not allowing residents to collect rainwater for their own use. Texas, Virginia and Rhode Island encourage rainwater harvesting by residents, with the last state offering a 10% tax credit for installation of a cistern system. Hawaii actually encourages rainwater harvesting, and Rhode Island also offers a tax credit toward the purchase of a cistern for rainwater harvesting.
But in other states with less rainfall, there are a few reasons why a municipality may put limits or regulations on collecting and harvesting rainwater. Collecting rainwater at your home may be taking water from the flow that another area depends on, especially in areas that experience a drought.
While most states have some regulations on how to handle the water, three states have law regarding the practice, including:
- Colorado, where you can collect two 110-gallon barrels of rain for non-potable outdoor use in single-family or multi-family units
- Nevada, where you can collect rainwater but only if you have a water right
- Utah, where it is legal only by the landowner or leaseholder to be directly responsible for the collection. Senate Bill 32(2010) states that a person registered with the Division of Water Resources can’t store more than 2,500 gallons of rain water. If they are not registered, they can store no more than two containers with a maximum capacity of any one container not to exceed 100 gallons (Utah Code Ann. §73-3-1.5)
The issue of illegal rainwater collection became a national topic when a 65-year old man in Oregon diverted over 13 million gallons of water and snow runoff onto his property into three man-made reservoirs, stocked them with fish and built boat docks for recreational fishing. Although the state initially issued permits, they later reversed them. The man was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $1,500 after he refused to drain his ponds, which were fed by two dams built to divert the water. The state stated that he violated a 1925 law stating that all water is publicly owned, and his dams impeded free-flowing systems that deprived down-stream residents of water.
Downsides to Rainwater Collection Systems
Despite the benefits, there are some downsides to collecting rainwater:
- Rainfall can be unpredictable, so the supply may be occasionally limited. If you live in an area without a lot of rainfall, you’ll need an additional supply
- A rainwater harvesting system can be expensive, depending on the system, and you won’t see a benefit until it’s online and ready to use. Similar to solar panels, recovering the cost may be a few years, depending on the type of system and the amount of rainfall you receive.
- The limit of storage your system provides. If you receive more rain than the system can hold, you’ll lose the benefit of the excess water.
- Your system will require regular maintenance to keep the water clean and working properly, as well as keeping out bugs, rodents and other wildlife.
- Water from rooftops may contain insects, chemicals or animal droppings that can harm plants if it’s used for gardening. Lids and a good filtering system can help eliminate this problem.
You can find more information on rainwater harvesting at the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association website.
Interested In Rainwater Collection At Your Home?
Sure, there’s plenty of rainwater in Maui—but how do you utilize it to reduce your water consumption and your carbon footprint?
Pro Draft can help design your new “green” Hawaiian home or building with LEED certification, and include a system for rainwater collection for your home. Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing one, we can make it easy to make your home more environmentally conscious on a small or large scale.
Call Pro Draft today at (808) 579-9050 or 1-800-499-4699 from the Mainland.