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Man Imprisoned For Collecting Rainwater

collecting rainwater

Collecting rainwater in barrels is a common Earth-friendly and off-grid living practice, but the sustainable existence chore is illegal in many states. Unless you own the water rights on the property, it is not permissible to salvage rainwater in barrels for future use. Western states where water is in high demand, like Colorado, Utah, and Washington, have laws which prohibit rainwater collection or diversion.

It may sound like common sense that a deed to a piece of property includes the rights to the water below, but that is not always the case. As a real estate agent with an appraiser husband, I know all too well the look of shock on a homeowner’s face when such a pesky little detail is revealed during the selling process.

Until learning about the latest infringement on property rights, I had never considered that the water rights clause pertained to anything above ground, with the exception of streams and rivers. The legal definition of water rights does include the phrase, “gathers on the surface of the Earth.” Apparently states which do not allow homeowners the right to fill rainwater barrels take the surface gathering aspect to the extreme. Typical surface water litigation cases involve damaging adjacent properties or altering a naturally flowing body of water – not catching raindrops falling from heaven for off-grid or sustainable purposes.

Salt Lake City Toyota dealership owner Mark Miller found out about the Utah law the hard way. He constructed a large rainwater collection system to use for washing cars on his lot. Instead of heralding the Earth-friendly business decision in one of the driest states in America, Miller was faced with a violation letter.

Miller had this to say about his brush with the law:

“Utah’s the second driest state in the nation. Our laws probably ought to catch up with that.”

Mark Miller’s story had a relatively happy ending. Salt Lake City officials ultimately entered into a compromise with Miller in the unlawful diversion of rainwater case – after several months of negotiations. The Utah town agreed to let the car dealership use “their water” to wash cars. When a city official was asked if a citizen using rainwater to take care of houseplants was also committing a crime, he answered “yes.” While the lawmakers stated the city has “bigger fish to fry,” it would still be within the power of the government to cite your grandma for using rainwater to care for her prized rose bushes.

Ultra Efficient Water Filter Fits In Your Pocket!

An Eagle Point, Oregon man spent 30 days in jail because he dug three reservoirs on his property in order to collect rainwater. Gary Harrington collected about 13 million gallons of water before being ordered to drain the ponds. Harrington stated during interviews with local media outlets that he was collecting the rainwater for personal use and fire suppression.

Gary’s concerns about having readily available water for fire suppression is a very valid claim. When you live in a rural area, fire hydrants do not exactly dot the landscape. Firefighters routinely draw from ponds, reservoirs, swimming pools, and lakes to fight brush and structures blazes. Fire engines are extremely expensive, therefore rural departments usually have only one or two tanker trucks. Harrington’s rainwater reservoirs could help save his property, adjacent homes, and more importantly, the lives of people and farm animals. The Oregon Water Resources Department deputy director stated during an interview with the Medford Mail Tribune that the agency wants Harrington to come into compliance with state law, regardless of what the public thinks. Gary is fighting the order to drain the ponds, which have been in existence for at least a decade.

In Oregon it is legal to collect rainwater in roof barrels or on artificial surfaces, but digging the retention ponds requires a government issued permit. In 2003 the Oregon man did acquire the necessary permits, but they were reportedly yanked away without explanation. Harrington had this to say about his rainwater harvesting woes:

“They issued me my permits. I had my permits in hand and they retracted them just arbitrarily, basically. They took them back and said, ‘No, you can’t have them.’ So I’ve been fighting it ever since. The government is bullying. They’ve gotten to be big bullies and if you lay over and die and give up, that just makes them bigger bullies.”

It seems illogical that all Americans do not have the right to save or use the rainwater which falls upon their property. If rainwater is owned by others, or a governmental entity like in the Utah case, then flood damage caused by the un-owned water should not be the responsibility of the person with their name on the property deed.

rainwater harvesting statesRainwater restrictions on property owners vary widely by state. Colorado and Washington limit the free usage of rainwater, but do offer residents some access to the water pouring down upon their land. Two recently passed Colorado rainwater laws now exempt specific “small scale” collection on private properties.

The laws were prompted by a study which found that allowing residents to collect rainwater improved conservation efforts and decreased the demand on water facilities. Colorado lawmakers seriously needed a study to unearth such facts? I hope the report was not another example of wasted taxpayer dollars – but it probably was. The Colorado study also noted that the rain robbers were only diverting about three percent of the precipitation which would have wound up in rivers and streams.

Many of the state rainwater collection laws have been on the books for many decades. Only in recent years has enforcement been stepped up, prompting homeowners to fight back against the infuriating dictates. Both Ohio and Texas have spent a significant amount of time studying the rainwater collection issue. Unlike Colorado with its extremely strict water rights interpretation, Texas actually encourages the practices.

Lone Star State residents who engage in rainwater harvesting enjoy a state tax exemption when purchasing necessary equipment. Ohio and Texas even allow potable rainwater collection. Oklahoma passed the Water for 2060 Act in 2012. The law promotes a series of rainwater and gray-water (bathtub water etc.) pilot project to promote conservation.

The rainwater harvesting problem is not the only self-reliant living issue currently facing off-the-grid and homesteading families. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, multiple families living in the deserts around Los Angeles County have been ordered to tear down their homes or pay huge fees to connect to the power grid.

How do you feel about the government intrusion the desire by property owners to collect rainwater?


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  1. As Jeff Foxworthy says, ” We live in a country that was founded by geniuses but now run by idiots.”

  2. And, in other parts of the country our government officials have taken the European lead of RAIN TAXing its citizens by determining the amount of hard surfaces (roofs, driveways, etc) and multiplying it times the amount of rainfall per year (satelite and NOAA info) then taxing your butt for the amount of runoff water your property introduced into the storm sewers!! WHERE DO WE LIVE THESE DAYS?? AND WHO IS VOTING THESE PEOPLE INTO POWER?????? Nuts!! Google RAIN TAX . This starts in of all places Maryland.

    • Every time a voter votes for a liberal (90%+ of all democrats), they are voting to perpetuate this situation. The radical environmentalists, along with every other leftist fringe group, found a home in the Democratic Party. To vote for a Democrat is to vote for such utter stupidity as this article describes. Want to perpetuate it? Vote Democrat!

  3. Im so mad from reading this article i cant think

  4. Water droplets that land on a roof or in a container have not gathered upon the face of the Earth. What’s next? Does the government think it also owns air and sunshine?

  5. That’s just stupid. The water under the ground I could understand, but he was collecting water that fell from the sky. Is the government so god like that they think they own the precipitation that falls from the clouds? Next we’ll be fined for breathing the air around us because we didn’t pay for the rights. Sigh. I weep for this country.

  6. I’ll be getting my bail money together!

  7. its the same as mineral rights. better make sure they are included in the purchase of your house b/c you could end up with a oil rig in your yard…

  8. Tara,

    Thanks for the article. I think it is important to point out the extremes, which are the man in Southern Oregon, the prohibition in Colorado and the strict limits in Utah, and add a little more context. I live in Oregon, and I have to say, even in very much off the grid southern Oregon I don’t think there was that much sympathy for his actions. Colorado is I think driven by the immense complexities of water law, and the Colorado river and downstream water rights. Utah is interesting, rainwater harvesting is allowed but with very low limits (100 gallons above ground and 1000 underground I believe), which might be explained by the tenet of self sufficiency in the Mormon Church and a concern at excessive water storage? That is very much a guess I emphasize.

    However most everywhere else in the country it is legal, encouraged, rebates are sometimes available and discounted rain barrel sales are common and popular. And, of course. rainwater harvesting is a great thing to do for all sorts of reasons, not least of all saving money and using non-chemically treated rainwater on your plants and yard.

    My frustration was at being unable to collect enough rainwater, and once I had a rain barrel full it was stuck next to the downspout right by the back door. I just got one of these ( which has transformed my relationship to rain barrels! I can now not only collect as much rainwater as I want, I can also store where I am going to use it!

  9. Everyone is so ticked off when things like this are actually reported and then when their own nutjob, Liberal, Socialist Congressman comes up for re-election; you guessed it! 97% of all incumbent politicians get voted back in because most Americans are too lazy to research who they are voting for. That’s why these radicals are running of government. Lazy, ignorant Voters. In this age of the internet, there is absolutely no reason to remain ignorant unless that’s the way you want it to be. If you have ever voted for a Liberal, you have lost your right to complain about anything.

  10. jackrabbitrunsthrowwildfireplaying

    people…this is all about AGENDA-21!! Please research all the small print hidden in all the bylaws of your regional principalities and be afraid…be very afraid…get mad…get empowered…get busy to wrestle with very narcisstic bullies away from the hog trough the sheeple have been filling up for years. I recognised the monster slowly rising up 3-decades ago and have been taking responsibilty of ones-self since. Also possess 2 passports as back up. Got my backsides covered if ya know what I mean. People get ready to hunker down and be treated as the slaves the” Powers that are Aloud to Be” expect you to be….or….BY GOD..AMERICANS THAT “YOUR” SUPPOSE TO BE!!! Because everyone is almost to late to matter at this point…so get busy and start doing what you people need to be doing fast…time is fading quickly.

  11. 私は抦感動、私がしなければならないと言う。 本当に にしないことが多い私は遭遇しないんブログその抯各 あなたが持っているでしょうは頭の上に釘を打っている可能性があります。ではない十分 人がいる |は一つ何か 約インテリジェント話。 私は非常に快適私がつまずいたその1 | これに関して|を参照|に係るもの} {。

  12. これは、実際に、 欠点問題私に答えて!

  13. oh the poor persecuted people who can afford to buy property but can’t be bothered to follow the law that is for everyone else. somehow i think the rain barrel collecting is rarely if ever enforced.

    • Questioning the law is very different from not obeying the law. Wanting to change a stupid law by showing its stupidity to the public is also different from not wanting to follow the law.

      You don’t know the difference. Does that qualifies you as a liberal, granted a simple minded one?

  14. “When a city official was asked if a citizen using rainwater to take care of houseplants was also committing a crime, he answered “yes.” ”

    Does the law say yes to that as well? The city or its officials are not the law, they just interpret and enforce the law. They may interpret it wrong and enforce it wrong.

    It is ridiculous. What about I let my cotton made clothes be soaked wet by standing in the rain and then wring the water off to water my poor grandma’s plant. Is it illegal too? Says who.

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