Why is it illegal to catch rainwater in some states in the USA

Dares not slap silenus with anything

In Colorado rain barrels are illegal. I actually know someone cited for it.

The difference is that a meteorite is a random, unplanned event. The flow rate of rivers and the recharge rate of aquifers is dependent on the rainfall in the area. The land around your property is dependent on the water that lands on your property and vice-versa. By capturing the water which lands on your property, you are unnaturally removing the water from where it would normally flow.

Still, the rain is known to fall at times and is thus expected.

It does seem stupid in places like England and the eastern United States. In the western U.S., however, there’s a different situation and a different history. Not everyone considers it stupid in that context. There, wrong behavior is not failure to be environmentally frugal but rather usurping water from those who have first claim to it. See “prior-appropriation water rights” for more info. It’s really a whole different world from what many of us are accustomed to.

In a nutshell, certain enterprises (mining, ranching, agriculture) were developed using limited/scarce water supplies. The right to use the water necessary for those endeavors is legally granted to those who qualify (generally because their predecessors got there first), not to those upon whose land the water happens to fall as rain or through whose land a stream might run. It’s not a matter of having a nice little garden, it’s a matter of being able to make a living.

Yep, a bit of explanation.

It doesn’t make any sense. Water doesn’t disappear when you use it. It goes right back into the ground where it would have gone originally. All you are doing with a rain barrel is evening out the flow, rather than letting it go in fits and spurts into the local streams and rivers, you store it up so you can use it at a more consistent rate. We’re not talking about damming up a river, but just moving rain that would have fallen on your front lawn a few feet over by pouring it on your garden instead.

Agree. It’s kind of laughable that the linked article says “Not too big of a deal if a few people do it, but if everyone collected rain, the rivers could be altered.” Now, does anyone seriously think that a significant portion of home owners, let alone “everyone”, will buy and use rain barrels? Apartment dwellers won’t do it. Businesses won’t do it. So, the state felt it necessary to write a law - and presumably enforce it - that infringes on a tiny minority of people who want to save a little money. I’m guessing that hardware stores are still selling a lot of rain barrels, which get camouflaged or hidden from nosy busybodies and Big Brother.

However, more of the water will be lost to evaporation than if it were allowed to surge into streams.

The exact percentage of that evaporation is actually important for me to consider this a huge issue or not. By my calculations, if there were a million more rain barrels in CO than there are now, an ALL of that water were lost to evaporation, then it would lower stream flow equal to several percent of the flow of the Colorado. However, there wouldn’t be a million rain barrels, and not all the water would be lost to evaporation, and some of the water would have come out of wells and municipal sources anyway.

Colorado doesn’t have a law specifically banning rain barrels, though; they have a general law about who owns water. Rain barrels get swept up in this larger law, but so do dams on streams and other larger structures, and diversions measured not in gallons but in acre-feet.

OK. Thanks for the clarification. I’m familiar with riparian rights laws that disallow dams and diversion of water. It never occurred to me that those laws would apply to rain barrels used to collect 50 or 55 gallons for watering plants. Sheez!

Here in Maryland, we have a “rain tax” imposed on all “impervious structures.” 10 of the counties are subject to in an idiotic effort to restore the Chesapeake Watershed. IIRC Anne Arundel County decided that they would set a flat tax at $0, essentially nullifying the mandate. Where I live, it’s anywhere from $26-$2600/year. Because, heck, it’s obvious that you created rain… or something.

For all those interested in Colorado’s law, I believe these are the current regulations. Notice that in CO, no one owns any precipitaton.

no you aren’t, you are just holding it up for a while. Then using it in small doses instead of using piped water for the purpose, therefore reducing the requirement to take more out of the water course further downstream, therefore ensuring that any small, temporary reduction in river flow or aquifer replenishment is offset by not having to abstract as much water in the first place. i.e. what remains goes further.

What an extraordinary thing. Never heard of it, and in fact were a poet to suggest that concept–even with the non-flowery/“poetic” OP wording “illegal to catch rainwater”–I would find it quite an emotionally compelling image.

Actually the rhythm of “illegal to catch rainwater” isn’t bad.
ETA: Isn’t there a song “Who will catch the rain” or something like that?

If Mobil wants to put an oil pipeline on my property they have to pay me even though they own the oil. If someone downstream wants to distribute the water they own across my property, shouldn’t they pay me for the privilege as well?

land of the free eh?
Plenty of stupid and short-sighted laws have been repealed. I don’t know the political landscape out west but I’m guessing that farmers are particularly vocal about keeping the status quo yes? ensure plenty of powerful lobbyists are employed I guess?

I’ll be the first to admit that prohibiting simple rain barrels is silly, but there is no decree from golden tablets that water rights need to be coupled with land rights: what can and cannot be considered a property is arbitrary. Similar to how I feel fining song copyers several thousands of dollars per illegal song is silly, but copyright and patents exist even though they’re arbitrary.

They do, and they did. If your property didn’t come with water rights, in principle when you bought it it was cheaper because of that.

With all due respect:

  • a tax on square footage of impervious structure is no more an actual tax on rain just because people call it a “rain tax” than the estate tax is a tax on death by calling it a “death tax”. :rolleyes:

  • impervious structure speeds runoff rather than allowing it to soak into the ground. Even if the state of Maryland wasn’t trying to restore the watershed, water that doesn’t soak into the ground goes into the stormwater drainage system, which local governments pay to build, expand, & maintain. Impervious structure generates public expense, and it makes sense to impose a tax to pay that expense or at least incentivize its reduction (“maybe we don’t need a parking lot that big if we’ve gotta pay tax on it.”)

  • that it’s “idiotic” to restore the Chesapeake watershed, a major tourist attraction and a fishing grounds, is your opinion that the rest of us aren’t obliged to agree with.

Also, depending on where you live, wouldn’t creating your own dams have the potential to screw things up regarding floods? I don’t even want to think about what would happen if some idiot tried that in my neck of the woods.

Outlawing rain barrels does sound kind of dumb. I guess you could just leave some big-ass buckets out to get around that?