In recent years, several news stories have appeared which depict people in different states being penalized for the collection of rainwater on their properties. The collection of rainwater for household use is a practice known as “water harvesting,” and ever since a handful of states have cracked down on, or attempted to regulate it, there has been a great deal of confusion regarding the legality of rain barrels.
So, are your rain barrels legal?
Collecting Rain in Barrels in Florida: What You Need to Know
According to a legal precedent dating back more than 160 years called “prior appropriation,” not all water collected on your property is necessarily yours. Though only about a dozen states currently enforce it, the law basically states that any rainwater harvested for household use must be captured from an artificial, impervious surface such as your rooftop.
Most laws regulating the stockpiling of rain water are directed at damming, or trapping water that would have, in the due course of nature, run off of your property and serviced the general public in some way. The use of rain barrels, which collect water directly from your rooftop via your rain gutters is a bit different.
Now, many municipalities are taking a more eco-friendly approach to rain water harvesting. As water becomes scarcer and low-water landscaping grows in popularity, cities across the U.S. are now in fact encouraging the use of rain barrels as a means of taking pressure off city water systems.
It’s always a good idea to check with the city or county to make sure you’re not violating any laws if you intend to collect rain in barrels, though. It’s better to find out before you try than to be slapped with a fine because you didn’t ask!
How to Get the Most From Your Rain Barrels
If you’re good to go, you’ll want to get the most from your rain barrels.
An important habit to adopt is to ensure that the lid is well secured, as exposing rainwater to sunlight and open air will encourage algae growth. Make sure that the screen is secure to keep out water-loving insects such as mosquitoes. Clean out the filter regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and inspect your rain barrels once every couple of weeks for leaks. If your rain barrels will be attached to your downspouts, make sure that your rain gutters are clean and free of debris, and the water continues to flow freely into the downspout and down into the barrel when it rains.
Remember, too, that using a rainwater collection system also eliminates any chemicals or treatments that are often used in city water. This not only benefits the soil quality—it has a positive impact on the environment as a whole.
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