Published on GreenBizSite (http://greenerbuildings.com)
Box of Rain – States Take a Closer Look at RainwaterHarvesting
By Jeff Kray
August 14, 2008While water withdrawals from streams and wells are often closely monitored andcontentious, regulators have historically tended to look the other way when it comes towater captured as rain. But as water becomes more scarce, regulators have begun tomore closely scrutinize the increasingly popular practice of rainwater harvesting —collecting rainwater in barrels, buckets and tanks.Presently, there is little consistency among states in regulating the harvesting of rainwater.Some states, like Colorado, prohibit rainwater harvesting. Other states, like Washington,are considering requiring a permit only for rainwater capture systems above a thresholdamount. In other places — notably Santa Fe, New Mexico — rainwater harvesting isactually required. Systems for rainwater capture must be installed on every new 2,500square foot or larger residential or commercial building in that city. Arizona, Hawaii,Kentucky, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia are all either regulating or considering regulatingrainwater harvesting.
What is Rainwater Harvesting?
Rainwater harvesting is the collection, storage and conveyance of rain as a water source.As the nation realizes the limits of its existing freshwater resources, attention is returningto rainwater capture to help ensure adequate water supplies. Rainwater harvestingsystems range from a barrel placed under a downspout to multiple tanks with pumps andcontrols. Residential collection systems can range from a 50-gallon rain barrel to cisternsof 30,000 gallons or more. Commercial systems can be much larger. As discussed below,rainwater harvesting can provide several environmental benefits.Catching and storing rain is an age-old practice throughout the world. In China, rainwaterharvesting may date as far back as 6,000 years. In India, the practice dates back over4,000 years and traditionally meant storing water in tanks or reservoirs. "By someestimates, 20,000 villages in India are harvesting their rains," writes Fred Pearce in his2006 book "When Rivers Run Dry."In the United States, water resources are primarily governed by state, rather than federal,government. State and local governments have taken opposing approaches to rainwater.As noted above, for example, Colorado assumes that rainwater contributes to streamflowsand, therefore, prohibits rainwater capture systems. Similarly, local and state buildingcodes, zoning laws and other regulations in Colorado and other states may limit theavailability of rainwater harvesting.