This seems like a common sense no-brainer.
Rain falls around your house. You put out a pot collect some of it. Why on earth shouldn’t you be able to?
There are catches all over this simple proposition, which is why a number of states even now are bumping into it. Last week, Nevada was one of them. Household collection of rain water is the subject of the current Nevada Assembly Bill 138.
Thing is, water is considered to be a public resource – owned by all of us, not any one person. That’s why we have water rights, which is something like a license to drive: The right to use the road, not an ownership of it. If you collect water from rain when it falls around your house, you’re appropriating a public resource without permission.
Well, at least technically. As a practical matter, as most people’s common sense would suggest, is a little looser. Capture a small amount and the state isn’t going to come after you. There’s a legal standard in water rights called de minimus use – as it sounds, minimal use of water.
In many places, that means domestic users of water – even well owners – have no need of a special water use permit, because the amount of water involved is simply too small to try to regulate.
Where the de minimus line is, however, varies from place to place. Different states have different rules, and some of the drier states actually are very stringent. “Rain barrel” collection of water is sometimes closely limited, or even banned altogether.
The Nevada legislation, for example, provides this (according to its digest): ““Existing law requires that, subject to existing rights, the appropriation of any water in this State is subject to the provisions of chapter 533 of NRS, which, among other things, require any person seeking to appropriate water to obtain a permit to do so. (NRS 533.030, 533.325) Section 1 of this bill provides that the de minimus collection of precipitation from the rooftop of a single-family dwelling for domestic use or in a guzzler to provide water to wildlife is exempted from the requirements of chapter 533 of NRS and thus may be collected without a water right or permit to appropriate water. Sections 2-5 of this bill make conforming changes.”
Your mileage may vary.