Water Collecting Restrictions in California (Madness?)

  • By: TheWalledNursery
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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Until as recently as 2012, it was illegal to collect rainwater in California. Today, you’ll need to follow the rules set in the Rainwater Capture Act if you plan on collecting water. You may need a license if you use the water in a pond or irrigation system. 

Many gardeners and landscapers use rainwater to take care of their plants. You’ll want to know about the restrictions in your state, so you don’t accidentally break any laws. 

Are There Water Collecting Restrictions in CA? 

Before 2012, you couldn’t collect water legally in the state of California. The lawmakers didn’t intend to impact private homeowners, so those reusing rainwater in their gardens wouldn’t always receive punishment. 

However, the state set restrictions to stop companies from harming the ecosystem. These companies would collect insane amounts of water, preventing it from entering the environment naturally. 

California still has water collecting restrictions, but the rules changed after 2012. That year the state enacted the Rainwater Capture Act. This bill allows everyone to collect rain as long as their collection system meets guidelines set by the state. Before the bill, you’d need a permit to use a rain barrel. 

Now, you’ll only need to obtain a permit to collect rainwater under certain conditions. Still, you may need one, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with this law. 

What is the 2012 CA Rainwater Capture Act? 

The Rainwater Capture Act allows all government, commercial, and residential property owners to use rainwater capture systems on their land.  

Lawmakers intended the act to help manage California’s drought and water issues. With it in place, more people could use rain barrels and other collection systems to recapture water for landscaping and gardening. 

It would also benefit flood control and reduce pollution since the first ¾ inch of rain is usually the most polluted. Since more people started recapturing rainwater, the most contaminated water wouldn’t return to the ocean and rivers. 

Overall, the act allows property owners to use rainwater to take care of their gardens while saving clean drinking water during periods of drought.  

What are Current CA Water Collecting Restrictions? 

Some water-collecting restrictions remain in place in California today. According to the Rainwater Capture Act, you don’t need a permit to collect rainwater if you abide by the California State Water Resources Control Board’s rules. 

The CSWRCB doesn’t require you to have a rain barrel permit. However, you may need permission to collect water if you’re a corporation gathering large amounts or you plan on using the water in a pond or irrigation system. 

Most of the time, you will not need special permission to collect rainfall for gardening or other personal lawn care projects. You may need a permit if you’re recapturing water for commercial landscaping. 

Different cities can have varying laws on how much water you’re allowed to collect or how large the rain barrels can be. For example, San Diego says rain barrels must be between 45 and 200 gallons. When you add Home Owner Association rules into the mix, it can get more complicated, so do your research before installing a water collection system. 

Are Rain Barrels Illegal in CA? 

Installing and using rain barrels isn’t illegal in California anymore. They’re convenient and allow you to collect water whenever it rains easily. 

However, you’ll need to ensure you use the water properly, so you don’t get sick. You can use the collected water for gardening, but you shouldn’t drink it. Water must undergo a sterilization process for it to be safe to consume. 

It’s also essential to keep your rain barrel clean, so it doesn’t attract mosquitos, which can bring diseases. Many modern rain barrels use a screen to keep out mosquitos. Still, you can add “mosquito dunks” or a small amount of vegetable oil to the water after it rains. The dunks kill any mosquito eggs in the water. The vegetable oil floats on top of the water, suffocating the larvae. 

Overall, it’s not illegal to use a rain barrel system in your state. However, you must take a few precautions to ensure you don’t attract pests. Keeping the barrels clean and free of mosquitoes can prevent the spread of illness. Plus, you won’t have to deal with them living on your property. 

Does CA Pay You To Use Rain Barrels? 

Some counties in CA let you get back money from the state by using rain barrels. For example, San Diego offers the Waterscape Rebate Program. 

This program offers up to $0.75 per gallon that you store. However, it does have a maximum of $2,100 for water stored on residential properties. The average home in San Diego collects 515 gallons of water, which would be $385. 

So, not only can you help the environment by collecting rainwater, you might even get paid to do it. Many other cities in the state do offer similar water collection rebates, so you’ll want to look into local programs. 

You can easily find information on getting paid to collect rain by searching online. If you still need clarification, we recommend that you reach out to local officials and see if they have any programs for you to join. You might be surprised at what cities will pay you to collect water in this state. 

Can I Get a Free Rain Barrel in CA? 

Some areas in California also offer free rain barrels when you participate in water collection programs. Or, if you don’t get the barrel for free, you might receive a rebate that goes up to a specific price. 

According to the Blue Barrel company, you can receive a free Blue Barrel system from them in northern California. In San Diego, you can get a reimbursement for their 20-barrel system. 

Lastly, these counties can also offer full refunds: 

  • Ventura 
  • San Bernardino 
  • Riverside 
  • Orange 
  • Los Angeles 

We recommend getting a free rain barrel when you can. It’s a great way to start collecting water on a tight budget. 

In What States is Collecting Water Illegal? 

While collecting rainwater in California is no longer illegal, a few states in the U.S. still have rules against their citizens doing it. 

These states include Utah and Colorado. They have strict regulations surrounding water collection. For instance, you can only collect 110 gallons of rainwater in Colorado before it becomes illegal. You can refill your rain barrels when they run out as long as you stay within that 110-gallon limit. 

Utah is more relaxed, allowing its citizens to use two barrels that are less than 100 gallons each. Although, you’re allowed to capture up to 2,500 gallons of water in this state. 

Luckily, since you’re in California, you won’t accidentally break the law by collecting too much water! 

Why Should I Collect Rainwater in CA? 

There are plenty of benefits that you should consider. Here’s why many people in CA recapture rainwater: 

  • Using recaptured water for lawns and gardens lowers your water bill. 
  • It improves water conservation.  
  • It reduces the amount of polluted runoff that goes back to the water supply. 
  • Keeping rainwater handy is good for reducing the threat of wildfires. 
  • In a drought emergency, you can sterilize the rainwater to make it safe to drink. 

Since California has many drought periods, having an additional water source is essential. While you shouldn’t drink the rainwater you collect in the barrel, you can use it to take care of your garden, reducing the amount of drinkable water you use. 

In short, you should start collecting water in California if you don’t already. It’s a relatively simple process to set up. 

How Can I Recapture Rainwater in CA? 

Rain barrels are the best option for capturing gardening water since they’re easy to use and you don’t need sterile water. If you want to collect rain to use in your home, consider having the pros install a rainwater tank instead. It should clean the water for you, so it’s safe. 

However, you can set a rain barrel up on your own. You can find them at plenty of stores, so buying one won’t be an issue. Although, you need to check that it has a screen on top to prevent insects and debris from getting in the water. Once you have your rain barrel, follow these steps: 

  1. Level the ground under your gutter system’s downspout.  
  1. Set bricks or cement blocks down. 
  1. Set the barrel on the blocks. 
  1. Measure and mark where the downspout reaches the barrel. 
  1. Cut the downspout where you drew your mark using a hacksaw. Keep the cut piece because you may need to reconnect it later. 
  1. Connect a flexible elbow piece to the downspout and point it into the rain barrel. 
  1. Set up a hose on the overflow valve on the barrel, so that excess water goes into another rain barrel. 

After setting up your rain barrel, you can easily use the water you collect. These rain barrels should come with a stopper on the bottom that you can use to fill your watering can. 


Madness… Did you know until as recently as 2012, it was illegal to collect rainwater in California?

Today you need a license and to follow the Rainwater capture Act.

We recommend using a rain barrel most areas of CA offer a free barrel and also let you get back money from the state by using rain barrels.