Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

Is it Illegal to Have Rain Barrels in Washington State?

...
Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Using rain barrels or other containers to collect rainwater was illegal in Washington State until October 12, 2009. That was when the state's Department of Ecology reversed a long-standing policy that made it illegal to harvest rain pouring from roofs. For many years, it was legal to purchase but not to use rain barrels in Washington. The problem flowed from old-time water laws in semi-arid western states.

Semi-Arid Lands

Western Washington, including Seattle, is renowned for its rainy weather from fall through spring, averaging 30 to 60 inches annually in the lowlands and double that figure in the Cascade foothills and the Olympic Peninsula. But the region east of the Cascade Mountains, which includes Spokane, gets one-third that amount and is semi-arid, similar to western states such as Colorado and Utah. The Washington Department of Ecology says it might seem hard to imagine a need for rain barrels in Seattle, but there is little rainfall along the coast during the time of greatest need -- summer.

  • Using rain barrels or other containers to collect rainwater was illegal in Washington State until October 12, 2009.
  • The Washington Department of Ecology says it might seem hard to imagine a need for rain barrels in Seattle, but there is little rainfall along the coast during the time of greatest need -- summer.

Western Water Law

Western water laws are complicated and date back to pioneer days in the mid-19th century. Many are based on what Colorado State University refers to as a "first in time, first in right" philosophy that allowed farmers and other settlers to obtain court orders allowing them to appropriate certain amounts of stream flow annually and forever. In time, western water became over-appropriated, and there wasn't enough to accommodate all who held rights to it.

Old Policy

Although Washington didn't actively enforce its old, no-rain-barrel rule for homeowners, the policy created problems for developers of eco-friendly buildings who wanted to collect rainwater for purposes such as flushing toilets, according to Sightline Institute, a northwestern organization focused on environmental sustainability. Because of Washington's backlog of applicants for water rights, the Institute says, the old policy made it easy for anyone opposed to construction of a green projects to slow it down by contesting water rights.

Reasons for Reversal

The new policy allows property owners to use rain barrels and underground storage systems to collect rooftop runoff for use on the property where it is harvested. However, the state can step in if the practice negatively affects existing water rights or harms the water supply. The Washington Department of Ecology notes that rainwater collection aids storm water management and is an ecologically friendly way to provide for home irrigation needs. One major aspect of this ecological friendliness that proponents of rainwater harvesting cite is that it minimizes the amount of municipally treated water needed for watering yards.

  • Western water laws are complicated and date back to pioneer days in the mid-19th century.
  • Although Washington didn't actively enforce its old, no-rain-barrel rule for homeowners, the policy created problems for developers of eco-friendly buildings who wanted to collect rainwater for purposes such as flushing toilets, according to Sightline Institute, a northwestern organization focused on environmental sustainability.

Laws in Other States

Colorado revised its stringent law against rainwater harvesting in July 2009. Now landowners who have wells and don't have access to municipal water supplies may harvest rain. Utah rescinded its law against the practice in May 2010. The new Utah law allows anyone to collect rainwater for use on the property where it is collected. But the size and number of collection containers are limited.

Related Articles

History of the Mcculloch Chain Saw
History of the Mcculloch Chain Saw
Information on Using Pond Water for Plants
Information on Using Pond Water for Plants
The Effect of Rainwater on Plants
The Effect of Rainwater on Plants
History of Florida Orange Trees
History of Florida Orange Trees
How to Gravity Feed a Water Feature
How to Gravity Feed a Water Feature
How to Install Catch Basins for a Backyard Drainage System
How to Install Catch Basins for a Backyard Drainage...
History of Balers
History of Balers
How Much Water Does a Giant Redwood Tree Need?
How Much Water Does a Giant Redwood Tree Need?
Information on Cypress Trees History
Information on Cypress Trees History
List of Ten Endangered Plants in Palawan
List of Ten Endangered Plants in Palawan
Vegetable Growing in Tasmania
Vegetable Growing in Tasmania
Algaecide for Ponds That Is Safe for Fish & Frogs
Algaecide for Ponds That Is Safe for Fish & Frogs
Tap Water Vs. Distilled Water for Plants
Tap Water Vs. Distilled Water for Plants
How to Plant Cypress Tree Seeds
How to Plant Cypress Tree Seeds
Privacy Fence Laws in Florida
Privacy Fence Laws in Florida
What Does FTD Stand for in the Flower Business?
What Does FTD Stand for in the Flower Business?
Garden Guides
×