Collecting Rainwater is Illegal in Some States-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:

Viral reports that an Oregon man was jailed for collecting rainwater on his rural property have sparked questions about whether it’s illegal to collect rainwater in some states.

The Truth:

Claims that it’s illegal to collect rainwater in some states are both true and false.

Eleven states have passed laws about the collection of rainwater, but that doesn’t necessarily make it illegal in those states. Some states actually offer tax incentives to encourage people to setup their own rainwater collection systems.

The topic of illegal rainwater collection first went viral back in 2012 when a man from rural Oregon was sentenced to 30 days in jail for illegally collecting rainwater on this property. The (true) story of 64-year-old Gary Harrington’s jail sentence sparked a lot of questions about rainwater harvesting.

Gary Harrington was sentenced to 30 days in jail on nine counts related to the unauthorized use of water, according to an Oregon Water Resources Department statement:

“Harrington stored and used water illegally by placing dams across channels on his property and preventing the flow of water out of these artificial reservoirs without obtaining a water right permit. The height of each dam varies; two dams stand about ten feet tall and the third stands about 20 feet tall. The total amount of water collected behind these dams totals about 40 acre feet; enough to fill almost 20 Olympic‐sized swimming pools. These man‐made reservoirs feature boat docks, boats, and were stocked by Harrington with trout and Bluegill for recreational fishing.”

The story led many to believe that all rainwater collection in Oregon was illegal, but that’s not the case. The state requires a water rights permit to use public water (including rainfall), but there are exceptions for “collecting precipitation water that gathers on an artificial impervious surface, such as a rooftop or parking lot; in rain barrels.” So, for most people in Oregon, it’s legal to collect and use rainwater.

There has been similar misunderstanding about rainwater collection laws in Colorado. Before 2009, Colorado had strict laws that basically made collecting rainwater illegal. But the state later introduced laws that made it legal to use some rooftop rainwater collection systems and to set up rainwater retention basins at new development sites.

Other states that have rainwater collection laws on the books include Arizona, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

But these laws don’t make it illegal to collect rainwater; they outline allowable uses for rainwater and establish tax credits for people who invest in rainwater collection systems.

A copy of the email submitted to

Is it illegal to collect rainwater in some states?