Capturing Rainwater in California

Capturing Rainwater in California

Before 2012, it was illegal to capture rainwater without obtaining the appropriate permit. California’s Governor Brown in 2012 passed the Rainwater Capture Act which legalized the capturing of rainwater off of rooftops. Where many people get confused about the legality of capturing rainwater is that it is still illegal to capture water that has entered a drain off their property like a storm drain or stream channel. Another restriction to rainwater usage is that the harvested water in most states can only be used outside the house.


California voters last year passed Proposition 1, which will allocate state funds to support rainwater harvesting. Some cities like San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles have or are developing policies on new construction codes to require commercial developments to use recycled water from rainwater harvesting efforts for irrigation and toilets. This holds commercial spaces accountable for their water usages. But are you being held accountable for yours?


Why even care that California passed the Rainwater Capture Act? What can it do for the environment and you?


Reasons to catch rainwater:

  • This act allows YOU to gather water on your property to help minimize your city water usage.


  • It also allows you in the current drought (if it ever rains again!) to feel a little less guilty about having a beautiful landscape if the water isn’t coming from California’s drained reservoirs.


  • Very little water reenters the ground when it rains due to storm drains, evaporation, and run off. By capturing the rainwater you are giving a little back to the earth.


  • If you live in places where it rains a lot like near San Francisco where the average rainfall is 24 inches a year (or was the average), you could collect roughly a 100-day supply of water through the year by installing some capturing system.


Two Ways to Capture Rainwater:

  1. Simple: Barrels under your gutters

    • These barrels catch the rainwater as it drains off your roof and then you use the water how you like on your landscape (or maybe even to flush your toilet if the powers out for awhile).


  1. Underground Capturing

    1. This is an underground rain filtration system that captures water from your gutter downspouts and/or rain that lands on permeable pavers. The water filters down through various levels of rock filtration (depending on the system installed) until it collects in underground containers. This water can then be pumped up to your landscape or in some commercial settings for toilets. (In the photo below, the water storage is underneath the pavers.)



3000 gallon RainXchange with a Pondless Waterfall. Rainwater harvesting can be beautiful and functional.


Rainwater capturing isn’t an investment to save some money on a water bill. City water usually costs less than a cent/gallon depending on the area, while capturing rainwater can cost anywhere from 75 cents to a few dollars per gallon. If you are looking for a cheaper way to water your landscape than city water, rainwater harvesting may not be for you.


But if you are person concerned about your impact on the growing drought on the west coast and specifically California’s worsening drought, this is one way you can do your part to lessen your impact on the environment.


If everyone started playing their part of saving rainwater (businesses and individual’s alike) and putting it back into the ground instead of letting it run off into storm drains, it would lighten the impact of the drought by taking the little water there is and making sure it ends up back into the ground.


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