Utah on the way legalize rainwater collection

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Background

For decades now it’s been illegal in Utah to collect rainwater that falls on your own property. Sounds crazy, right?

That’s what I thought, too. It seems there is an age-old assumption that water rights begin in the sky above the state, and that collecting it requires a “water right” assigned to you by the state. Most counties have been granted the water right to the water that falls on it, and in turn, many cities have been assigned a portion of the county’s right for the water that falls on the city.

Property Rights

The complication this brings up is property rights. The governmental entity effectively owns the water, just like you own your car. Fair enough.

But that’s the root of the complication. If your car is parked on a hill, rolls down that hill, and hits another car, you are responsible for the damage that it caused. Your property damaged someone else’s property, and you’re liable.

How is this different than the state’s water causing damage to my house? Isn’t the entity that owns the water liable for the damage that it causes? Seems like they should be.

That’s where things get really silly

Where I live, every new construction project (be it a residential development, or restaurant) must mitigate rainwater runoff, typically though the installation and maintenance of a catchment pond. Why? So the storm sewers aren’t inundated with a surge or rainwater.

Let me rephrase: where I live it is required that developers catch and temporarily store rainwater, then release it into the storm sewer at a slowed rate.

Isn’t that what a rain barrel or cistern does?

For those of you who don’t know, a rain barrel is just that, a barrel in which one collects rain. It’s usually situated under a down-spout to catch the water that flows off your roof. Once you’ve collected is you can water your pets, your plants, your lawn, or your garden. You can even wash your car with it!

Where does that water “go” once you’ve watered your plants or washed your car? That’s right, it goes right back into the ground, and ultimately to the same place that it would have gone had it been diverted directly into the sewer, stream, pond, or lake.

It doesn’t stop there

Don’t worry, if I haven’t sold you on the idea of storing rainwater by now, there’s plenty more.

Once the rain makes it into the storm sewer, it eventually makes it into the city pond (in the case of my city). From there it’s stored (with fish added, bat boxes maintained, and frequent abatement to reduce mosquitoes). Eventually it’s pumped through irrigation pipes to the residents throughout the city to use to water their lawns and gardens, and wash their cars. (Um… isn’t that what we were going to do with the water in the rain barrels?)

So now we have to maintain another system (that we have to pay for) to redeliver the water to us that previously fell on our property.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it.

The Utah Legislature Agrees

If you don’t think the current system makes much sense, you’re not alone. The Utah State Senate agrees with you. According to a report by KSL and the AP, “Senate Bill 32 would permit the collection of 2,500 gallons in a storage container.”

Another interesting point: the Utah State Legislative session opened today. In other words, this bill was read, approved, and passed to the Utah House before the conclusion of the first day of the session.

A special hat-tip to Senator Scott Jenkins (R., Plain City), for sponsoring this bill.

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