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Captured Rainwater and the Government

 By Kim Robson

For those of us living in dry, arid areas, every rain shower is a blessing from the skies. Our gardens get watered. Leaves and rocks are washed clean. Everything is fresh and renewed. But so much of that rainwater runs into gutters and out to sea, wasted. There are ways to capture rainwater for future use; however, be aware that cash-strapped governments are looking for ways to tax or meter that water.

All the Western U.S. states give you the freedom to catch and use rainfall with the following exceptions:

· Colorado: Your roof is considered to be a tributary to a stream, so you can’t legally harvest rainwater unless you have water rights to that drainage. State legislators are considering a bill this year to permit the collection of water for irrigation.
· Utah: Rainwater in Utah is state property. Homeowners can’t legally keep it. State Senator Scott Jenkins plans to introduce legislation this month that would allow homeowners to harvest rainwater.
· Washington: Existing law is ambiguous; therefore, Washington’s Department of Ecology doesn’t enforce laws that might regulate rain water harvesting.
· Oregon: Rainwater in Jackson County, Oregon, is state property. The county recently sentenced a man to 30 days in jail and fined him $1,500 for the crime of “stealing” rainwater from his own property.

Some jurisdictions actually encourage or require the retention of rainwater:

· Arizona: The state offers an individual income tax credit to cover 25 percent (up to a maximum of $1,000) of the cost of rainwater capture systems.
· New Mexico: Santa Fe County requires cisterns for commercial buildings and for all new houses larger than 2,500 square feet. Smaller dwellings must have rain barrels, berms, or swales to make use of rainfall.

One of my blog friends lives in a remote part of Western Australia’s jungle. He and his wife built a small dam 30 years ago to provide a permanent water source for their home. Eventually they became totally self-sufficient, growing root vegetables for sustenance and bromeliads for income. Last month, the government came along and cut into his water pipe to install a meter. During the “Year of the Farmer,” no less. Even without using a drop of water, there are still annual charges of several hundred dollars for licenses, maintenance, and travel cost for someone to read the meter. He is understandably furious.

If you live in an area that doesn’t interfere with (or that even encourages) rainwater harvesting, here’s how you can get started. There are systems sized for any homeowner, from a small garden to a full-sized greenhouse. Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster, is an excellent resource.

For small gardens, replace your gutter’s downspout with a rain chain. The end of the chain attaches to a large bowl, which is placed over a rock-covered catch basin. Grow water-tolerant plants in the catch basin.

A rain barrel is a larger option which is still easy to install and use. My grandparents in Alberta used to have 50-gallon barrels under their downspouts, which they used to help water their large vegetable garden. A recycled wooden wine barrel makes a rustic and charming statement. If you can’t find that, userecycled food-grade plastic. Your barrel will need an intake line, a spigot, an overflow attachment, a screen cover to keep out leaves, and a removable solid cover. Set the barrel under a downspout. To keep the rainwater pure, remove the solid cover a few minutes after rainfall has started and had a chance to wash dirt, pollen, and other pollutants off the roof.

Grow a lot? Consider a rain water cistern. Just one inch of rain deposits about 600 gallons of water onto a 1,000-square-foot house. Rain gutters direct that water into a cistern to help water your garden. By the time your vegetables start growing in spring, the tanks will be full. The water travels through a gravity-fed drip system to irrigate crops.

If it’s legal in your area, get your system going now before the government steps in. Be vocal about your rights as a homeowner. Capturing and using rainwater actually helps the environment, and some states are beginning to recognize that.

What’s next, I wonder? Will we be taxed for the very AIR we breathe? I can just see the scenario now: a bunch of suits sitting around a boardroom, smoking cigars, when one of them says, “It’s just OUT there, and it’s FREE, and EVERYONE’S breathing it! Gentlemen, we must put a stop to this.”



About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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One comment

  1. Thank you for picking up the story of my brush with Australian bureaucratic stupidity and for pointing out the even more draconian laws regarding water harvesting off house roofs in some States of the U.S.

    During recent drought years when water supply reservoirs in many Australian towns were down to or below 10% capacity State Governments actually subsidised houseowners ($1000 each) to install house water tanks. My recent experience has made me even more cynical than normal about the true intentions of Governments. Now they have a data base of everyone who received subsidised tanks perhaps it is only a matter of time before taxes are levied.

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