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Can rainwater capture help quench California's thirst?


When it comes to water management, California Assemblyman Jose Solorio focuses on three C's: capture, conservation and conveyance. Of those, the state has been most successful with  conservation, Solorio says, but it hasn't been nearly as adept at capturing rain and snowfall and conveying it to where it needs to be.

In an effort to reduce California's demand on limited drinking-water supplies and to minimize the amount of polluted storm water that flows into the ocean, Solorio has written AB 275, also known as the Rainwater Capture Act of 2011. Introduced last week, the bill would authorize property owners to install different types of rainwater-capture devices, including rain barrels that could provide water for outdoor gardens and other systems that would allow captured water to be used indoors for non-potable uses, such as toilet flushing.

"California has traditionally relied on expensive and large public works projects to capture and store water, such as dams and groundwater basins and other forms of above-surface water-storage projects, but those projects are large and expensive," Solorio said. "It's time we start thinking about what we can individually do in our own residential properties, as well as what businesses might do, in terms of capturing water on property voluntarily."

Solorio said the primary barrier to adoption of rainwater catchment has been ambiguity and uncertainty about what is legal.

"My bill is really for individuals, as well as entrepreneurs, to show that capturing rainwater and putting it to good use is consistent with the goals of California to increase water supply and protect the environment."

AB 275 will likely be reviewed by the Assembly's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in April, after which it is expected to proceed to the full Legislature for a vote.


Rain barrels and permeable pavement are on L.A. agenda 

California enacts law to encourage storm water reuse

Storm-water diversion, courtesy of a curb

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A rain barrel outside a home in Sun Valley. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (33)

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Good idea but needs one thing changed - the rain water needs to be discharged into the sewer system. That way it is taken immediately off property, it can be treated and then returned into the existing system.

The problem is that the current sewer system will not be able to handle the inflows of the additional water, but the sewer systems of most cities needs rebuilding expanding anyway.

So you get the benefits of massive quantities of additional usable water and new sewer systems.

You can also install electric generators into the upgraded sewer lines to produce "free" electricity as well.

Too bad all our politicians are so smart, sometimes simple is much better!!!!

California is sadly behind the times on efforts to make use of rainwater, and this Bill represents a good, and welcome effort to provide additional supplies of water in a state that has faced increasing shortages in recent years. Georgia, Texas, Washington, Hawaii, and Virginia all have strong guidelines in place to promote using captured rainwater for a variety of purposes; in many cases, and with proper treatment, the states even encourage using rooftop rainwater as a source of drinking water. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that using even untreated rainwater captured from rooftop surfaces for outdoor irrigation, or, with simple disinfection or filtration, using the water for indoor non-potable applications like toilet flushing, "presents little human health risk." Unfortunately, California has mostly ignored the practice, and continues to lose opportunities to ensure that the state's water supply needs are met.

Installing rainbarrels on your property to capture rooftop runoff for outdoor uses is already allowed under most circumstances in California, but in most areas there are also significant hurdles, if not outright prohibitions, against using the water for any indoor uses. This situation unfortunately limits opportunities to capture and use rainwater in place of treated, municipal water supplies, which are (comparably) expensive, require large amounts of energy to produce, and as we've seen over the last few years, limited. This Bill takes a first step towards removing the hurdles to indoor use, and for that alone it should be encouraged.

What we need is a way to restrict wasteful use in So Cal. I live in the South Bay, where every single day, on every block of every street, automated sprinklers turn on in yards, rain or shine. People just don't know, or don't care. They don't realize that their lawn and plants only need to be watered occasionally depending on weather and vegetation. I think the developers who build the homes set the systems up, and many homeowners never pay any attention to them. A month of above normal water use may cost them $10 on their bill. I walk dogs in the early AM hrs every day, and on every street there are sprinkler systems flooding tiny front yards, sump pumps going and running off the sidewalk into the street and down storm drains. The ONLY way to get the attention of the public at large is via the pocketbook, whether it's really expensive water bills or municipal code violations, those of us who consciously conserve are way too few.

Francis, the opposite is true. If you spend 10K to install a rain capture system, just to save $100 per year is not economical. In top of that add the cost of the land that you loose to the system, the maintenance, the hassle, the the risk of having polluted water in your backyard, breeding mosquitoes, it makes it a very bad idea. Check the price of water in your water bill. It is about $3/HCF for good quality, safe water.

I do not understand why every new building isn't required to capture "grey" water - non sewage from sinks, dishwashers, wash machines, etc. - to water yards. The cost (especially if bought in bulk by a developer) is marginal & the water saved would be astronomical. I have this same argument for solar panels. We have codes for everything but cannot add solar panels and grey water capture - maybe would add 10K to the cost of a house.

There needs to be a law authorizing use of rainwater capture barrels?

A law to "authorize property owners to install different types of rainwater-capture devices?" Or is that demand under punishment of law?

Has this guy nothing better to do with his time? Oh, forgot... politician - nothing but wasting time.

I don't get it - isn't any dam we have built in California a "rainwater capture facility"?

In these tough economic times - do the math - your local water district can provide you with water for 20+ years for the cost of one backyard rainwater system. Take that money and do something a little more beneficial for the environment

For the U.S. government give advice
The current U.S. economic downturn, many people unemployed. I think: If the energy supply companies and water companies were for each household to install solar water heaters and rainwater tanks to reduce energy consumption and reduce water waste, thereby creating a knock-on effect, serve multiple purposes to obtain benefits.
Its advantages are: 1, energy-saving carbon reduction, environmental protection and health. 2, make full use of solar energy and rainwater. 3, even disasters, every household has a resource base. 4, create job opportunities.
Sources of funding: the establishment of mutual funds to start the project, and then non-effectiveness of recycling in order to create this wealth.
For example: the flow of the storage tank through the rain metering charges, the water heater temperature to improve the degree of conversion into measures such as energy consumption without increasing the burden on the user at the same time, for water supply, energy supply companies with no interests to create.

The best and simplest way to store rainfall is to design your yard in ways that allow all rainwater that falls on your property to infiltrate into the ground instead of running off into storm drains.

Even a small yard can store thousands of gallons of water in the soil. Rainfall that percolates deeper into the ground recharges groundwater aquifers.

Rainbarrels are a lot of work. They would be used a few times and
then left to breed mosquitos or simply abandoned. If water use
reduction is the goal, then change garden composition...choose plants
that are native to the area. If you live in a desert.... Want to pass a law
that slashes water use? Outlaw swimming pools and outlaw grass
lawns in designated arid regions. Require native plants only in
all areas of California in outdoor lawn and garden displays.

Wouldn't it be more effective to install underground communal tanks in the middle of the street?

International Water Laws
Water Law in many countries affirms water falling from the sky as being the property of the land owner until it falls upon the ground. Water which falls upon your roof is your property. It is still your property when you collect it into storage tanks. Large rain water farms in Queensland providing bottled fresh rain water have successfully defended their right to do so.
Once the water is upon the ground it becomes 'public' property. Water in small farms dams is not the property of the land owner. It is now upon the ground.

Storing Rain Water for House hold Use. No problem. I live in Australia. We have two 5,000 gallon rain water storage tanks and a small electric pressure pump. Some people use a small raised header tank. Our local annual rainfall is 30 inches (2ft 6in) per year. Our roof area including carport is 3,000 square feet. Rainfall x roof area = 3000 x 2.5 = 7,500 cu.ft of water per year. That's 7,500 x 6.25 = 46,875 gallons. We can add to our rain water tanks when they get empty from the public supply. We are very careful with our water use. Low flow shower, low flush toilet, low water use washing machine.
You need to calculate the size of water tank you need. Your local rain fall data, your roof area and your consumption data, are needed. the volume of tank storage you need to install depends on your rainfall intensities durations, the length of dry periods and your daily consumption. You can increase your 'roof area' by the use of 'shade sails' or larger carports ect.
The critical factors are your rainfall and roof area.

For the U.S. government give advice
The current U.S. economic downturn, many people unemployed. I think: If the energy supply companies and water companies were for each household to install solar water heaters and rainwater tanks to reduce energy consumption and reduce water waste, thereby creating a knock-on effect, serve multiple purposes to obtain benefits.
Its advantages are: 1, energy-saving carbon reduction, environmental protection and health. 2, make full use of solar energy and rainwater. 3, even disasters, every household has a resource base. 4, create job opportunities.
Sources of funding: the establishment of mutual funds to start the project, and then non-effectiveness of recycling in order to create this wealth.
For example: the flow of the storage tank through the rain metering charges, the water heater temperature to improve the degree of conversion into measures such as energy consumption without increasing the burden on the user at the same time, for water supply, energy supply companies with no interests to create.

There is a reason the rain capture systems are illegal - they breed mosquitos. This bill is well-meaning, but ineffectual. A better approach would be development of desalination plants off the coast of California by private companies. These create jobs and would take the pressure off demand for Colorado river by southern California. Desalination is in use around the world and there is no reason to ignore the improved desal technologies anymore. There would be no need for the expensive peripheral canal with desalination.

The water business and it's army of lawyers has been sticking it to the public for decades. Los Angeles would not be here if it weren't for Mulholland and his methods. They underhandedly purchased land in the Eastern Sierra's and Owens valley, moving and selling the rainfall to customers in Southern California.
To top it off it seems they're always telling us there is a drought and that we shouldn't use as much water!

Our wise politicians should make it possible for Californians to collect some of the rainfall and utilize it for non-potable uses, such as landscape, commode, etc.

But to tell us that the rain that falls on my personal property is their's? Preposterous, immoral and illegal!

Another sign that we are lead by greedy and domineering liars.

The government career bureaucrats should not own every drop of water in america, that is preposterous, but increasingly they have claimed ownership over our lives they will charge us for water, for air, take our 4th amendment away with the "patriot act" we are in bondage, we need to take back our rights the same way they were taken in small increments, every law abiding american should have the right to save and use as much rain water as they can save and the politicians should stay out of our homes and our lives.

Here in Australia, it's mandatory for all new houses to have rainwater tanks, and about a quarter of existing premises have tanks. Despite being in a dry climate our average per capita consumption is 140 LITRES per day - about a quarter of that per person in Southern California. My fiancee and I have a great vegetable garden, use water like everyone else and combined for both of us we use a mere 50 gallons between us a day. If we can do it, anyone can.

Water capture or greywater recycling systems are largely against code in LA, and are illegal.

And, just as the case is with electrical conservation, LADWP will increase rates and surcharges to keep their revenue stream "constant" if conservation is successful.

I agree that it makes sense from a "moral" perspective, but there are formidable obstacles to implementation.

Let's say you buy a 55 gallon rain water capture system for say $60. Depending on your supplier, you can buy 100 cubic feet (746 gallons) for about $1 (average person in LA uses about 140 gallons per day). In California, we get all our rain in a very short period, so the 55 gallon barrel will not capture most of the water. Even if it refills four times in the winter, that's only 220 gallons.

A better solution would be for cities and people to replace the concrete in the landscape with designs that allow the rainwater to seep into the ground to recharge our aquifers.

Rainwater capture is not only smart and cool -- it should be our civic duty. By redirecting rainwater from our hard surfaces (think roofs, driveways, patios, etc.) and keeping it from running out to the street, we are achieving several things:
keeping polluted runoff from the oceans and waterways; reducing flooding; putting sufficient water into our gardens so that the plants (which PREFER rainwater to tap water) are healthier, happier, and need less tap water come summertime; recharging the severely depleted aquifers which lie below much of our landscape; regenerating the function of our urban watershed.
60%+ of our residential water goes to outside uses -- if we use the free resource of rainwater (either by capturing it in a device or simply allowing it to fill up our garden soil), we go a long way in reducing water consumption, the associated energy consumption, improve soil, and reduce air pollution. Talk about a winning situation!
The cost to redirect your downspout is about $10. The cost of a rainbarrel is about $80, and there are lots of people out there to help you figure it out: Surfrider Foundation (, TreePeople, and others.
Also, whether you capture it and store for later use or simply redirect downspouts into your garden, you are putting that rainwater back into the ground; it is ridiculous to claim that you are stealing anything from the watershed by using rainwater -- it is just the opposite -- you are replenishing your watershed!
Learn more about the benefits of rainwater capture for reuse or infiltration at one of our homeowner/professional classes. Information available on our website:

Thanks for all these encouraging comments. It's great to see all the support for rainwater capture. My name is Alf Brandt and I am the water lawyer who is staffing Assemblyman Solorio on this bill, so I thought I should respond to some of the questions and comments on the legality of rainwater capture.

I'll give you the typical lawyer's answer to whether rainwater capture is legal - "That's not clear." In fact, that's why Mr. Solorio authored this bill - to resolve the legal ambiguity. California statutes do not specifically address rainwater capture and no court decision has said it's illegal. Indeed, many communities encourage rainwater capture. Some water lawyers, however, assert that rainwater capture interferes with water rights held downstream, pointing to a 19th-century court decision about a farmer stopping water from getting to the stream.

Other western states already addressed this issue, with Washington deciding that no water rights were required for rainwater "harvesting" as they call it. Only Colorado has claimed to own water as soon as it hits the ground, and allows rainwater capture only by those who already hold groundwater pumping rights.

This is just the start of the story. We would always be happy to tell you more about why our bill makes sense if you contact us.

Although this is an admirable and smart idea, I do worry about how these rainwater catchments will be installed/developed/used if it is done voluntarily. I am all for smart water usage but if there are twenty homes with catchments, there will be twenty-one methods used to do so. How valuable will that be if the infrastructure for this system differs even from house to house? If there were a way for the gov't to subsidize a company to produce low cost catchments and supporting infrastructure, then the "what is legal" issues could be avoided. Obviously, there are concerns as to how expensive these catches would be or how viable they would be in rainless LA. All things considered, though, I find that this is a good idea that can really help quell our region's thirst (or at least a little bit).

So it's currently illegal to collect rain water? More details about the bill would have been helpful.

The big problem with rainwater collection is that storage containers cost a lot more than simply buying water from the water company. Somehow getting past this problem is going to be the key. Here's a blog post crunching the numbers on rainwater storage.

Tree People have been capturing rainwater and using it to maintain landscaping in California for years. They even have demonstration projects to show people how it can be done. (See

Their Web site also has lots of information on how you can re-use rainwater:

I live near the Santa Ana river, when it rains it amazing how much run off into the ocean there is. The river is almost full. I often wonder why we can't capture more of this water.

Currently, if you go by the letter of the law, capture of rainwater at your house is ILLEGAL. The government owns all water that falls from the sky onto your property. Please do some research on this before investing in a complicated system as it is plainly ILLEGAL. Currently if you are using a rainwater diversion system, you are breaking the law and liable for up to $10,000 Fine.. This was put into place years ago and tested in a lawsuit where a car dealership had a water diversion system that it used to take rainwater and filter it and use the water to wash the cars, keeping all pollution on site and not using any water. They were sued and fined. You see the government wants you to keep using city water so you keep paying. They also want to be the one to collect rainwater in diversion projects and sell it back to you!!!

being a plumber people can trap lots of water this way

Has having rainwater-catches actually been illegal all this time? Oops..

Using captured rainwater to keep my garden green has actually been my new conservative thing this year - I only recently ran out of stormwater from the December deluge, and combined with capturing the water while my shower is warming up, I'm using hardly any tap water to keep a lush and air-cleaning garden going.

I would like to use captured rainwater on my landscaping, especially in the summertime, but products designed for rain catchment are overpriced, around a dollar or two (or more) per gallon captured. In a city that charges half a cent per gallon of city water, it would take a hundred fill-and-empty cycles for such a product to be cost effective. Without an absolute crisis, I can't see doing any more than running my downspout into a standard 30 gallon trash can and dipping it out with a bucket. Is anyone producing a system that's not absurdly expensive? I may be a tall, blond, geeky dude, but I don't have an Ed Begley budget.

I live in another state. We collect ALL our water from rainfall. Perfectly doable. For every square foot of roof and every inch of rain you get about 1 gallon of water. The water is soft and sweet to drink.

The down side. There is a capital investment in tanks filtration systems and UV light as well as a pump. We have a house with 2100 feet of roof and a detached garage with 720 ft of roof, we get about 47 inches of rain a year. We have a pool (solar heated) a lush yard, we bathe, flush, and do laundry.

talkin sense here!

Having residents use rain barrels is a great idea to quench California's thirst and prevent stormwater pollution! Rain causes tons of contaminants to flow in our local waterways and ocean! To learn more how you can prevent stormwater pollution, check out


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