Why is it Illegal to Collect Rainwater in California?

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Why is it Illegal to Collect Rrainwater in California

Collecting rainwater in California has been a subject of evolving legal perspectives, especially with the state’s growing concerns about water conservation and sustainability. Contrary to the common misconception that it’s illegal to collect rainwater in California, the state actually encourages this practice.

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Rainwater Capture Act of 2012: California’s stance on rainwater harvesting underwent a significant change with the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012. This act legalized the collection of rainwater from rooftops, removing the previous requirement of obtaining a permit for such activities. The act recognizes rainwater as a valuable resource, particularly in addressing the state’s water scarcity issues.

California Water Code: According to Section 10573 of the California Water Code, the collection and use of rainwater falling on a private property owner’s land are not considered a diversion of water resources, thus not requiring a water right permit. This means homeowners are free to collect and use rainwater for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation and landscaping, without legal restrictions.

Best Practices and Local Regulations

Despite the legality of rainwater harvesting, there are important considerations and best practices to follow:

  1. Check Local Ordinances: Local regulations may vary, so it’s important to check with city or county governments for any specific rules or permit requirements related to rainwater harvesting systems.
  2. System Selection and Maintenance: Choosing the right type of rainwater collection system is crucial. It’s also important to maintain the system properly to ensure the quality of collected water, especially for systems like rain barrels and cisterns.
  3. Compliance with Building Codes: While collecting rainwater is legal, constructing and maintaining larger or more complex systems may still require adherence to certain building codes and regulations.

Sustainability and Environmental Considerations

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) enacted in 2014, while not directly regulating rainwater collection, highlights California’s broader efforts towards sustainable water management. The SGMA empowers local officials to regulate over-pumping from groundwater resources and aims to bring groundwater basins into balanced levels.


In California, collecting rainwater is a legal and encouraged practice, reflecting the state’s commitment to water conservation and sustainability. While the state law permits rainwater harvesting, it’s advisable to stay informed about local regulations and best practices to ensure compliance and effective use of this resource. Rainwater harvesting presents an opportunity for Californians to contribute to water sustainability in the face of climate change and water scarcity.

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