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Is collecting rainwater legal in your state?

By by Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather Staff Writer
November 15, 2016, 4:50:11 PM EST

Some U.S. states have laws restricting collection of rainwater, making it difficult for the average homeowner to set up a rainwater harvesting system.

Strict regulations and restrictions have been put in place over the last century. Currently, nine states have laws restricting the collection of rainwater, but the severity of those laws differ.

The issue of illegally harvesting rainwater went viral in 2012 when a 64-year-old man, Gary Harrington, was sentenced to 30 days in jail in Oregon.

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In the western U.S., any use of rainwater is subject to legal restriction of some sort. In the 1860s, miners in Colorado experienced water shortages and developed a system to divide water based on a priority system.

This system developed into the prior appropriation system, which is basically calling dibs on water.

“Stream flow is supplied by precipitation in the form of rain and snow, so if the supply is taken away, stream flow will decrease,” Jeff Deatherage, water supply chief in Colorado, said.

However, this issue has nothing to do with the environment. In fact, a number of independent studies proved that letting people collect rainwater on their property actually reduces demand from water facilities and improves conservation efforts.

Water has become big business. Water is one of the fastest growing industries in the world today. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on bottled water – not counting the billions that go to government agencies – and this resource is quickly becoming one of the most politicized in the world.

“The rain water collection bills allow for small amounts of water to be diverted/collected outside of the prior appropriation system,” Deatherage said.

The amount a household can collect is a fraction of what’s typically needed. The average family of four uses about 12,000 gallons of water per month.

“National Conference State Legislatures has not conducted an in-depth analysis on the effectiveness of rules or state agency actions related to rainwater harvesting,” Policy Specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures Mindy Bridges said.

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An American politician who served as attorney general of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, won a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013 claiming the water regulation plan is illegal and a land takeover.

“If the EPA were following the law, we would not have had a legitimate complaint. The reason we won our case was that the EPA did not follow the law,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli said the opposing political party joined the lawsuit despite it being an election year.

“A significant motive for the EPA to advance their rainwater agenda is to be able to vastly expand their control over local government decision making and economic development,” Cuccinelli said.  

Water corporations see the United States public systems as potentially profitable.

“This is wildly contrary to the founding fathers' vision for how this country was supposed to work,” Cuccinelli said.

The increased interest in privatizing public water is due to political forces and public policies making public services private for profit.

State legal authority for public entities to privatize water systems has aided the privatization trend. States have enacted statutes authorizing other public entities to enter into contracts with private entities to supply water to the public.

The bottled water industry is making $22-billion-a-year bottling water from municipal water. Companies are bottling up the same water that comes out of your faucet and raising the price.

There is far less testing completed on bottled water than tap water. Bottled water isn’t tested for e. coli, and it can be distributed if it doesn’t meet the quality standards of tap water.

Unlike tap water, bottled water isn’t required to produce quality reports or provide its source. Some public drinking water systems are not required to test for lead under the Lead and Copper Rule, which is the primary federal standard for monitoring the toxic metal.

As seen with Flint, Michigan, the city violated the Safe Drinking Water Act four times due to increases in E. coli, coliform bacteria and trihalomethanes, a class of carcinogenic disinfection byproducts.

In Pennsylvania, a water system does not need to notify customers of their test results until after the end of a six-month period, as opposed to after a sample has shown to be toxic.

If a water system tests samples in March and finds a potentially dangerous reading that exceeds the federal standard, the water company is not required to tell the homeowner until 30 days after the end of June. By that time, people have already ingested hazardous toxins.

So people in states with rainwater harvesting laws should take extra precautions by purchasing filters certified by NSF International.

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