Can You Collect Rainwater in California? Is it Legal?

Rainwater harvesting has become increasingly popular in recent years, as people look for sustainable ways to conserve water and reduce their environmental impact.

California, known for its warm climate and periodic droughts, can benefit greatly from rainwater collection. But is it legal to collect rainwater in the Golden State?

In this blog post, we will explore the legality of rainwater harvesting in California and provide some tips for those interested in implementing a rainwater collection system.

The short answer is yes! It is legal to collect rainwater in California. In fact, the state encourages residents to do so as a means of conserving water and promoting self-sufficiency.

The California Water Code, specifically section 10573, states that the collection and use of rainwater falling on a private property owner’s land is not considered a diversion of water resources, and thus does not require a water right permit.

This means homeowners are free to collect and use rainwater for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation and landscaping, without legal restrictions.

However, it’s essential to note that the legality of rainwater collection does not mean you can bypass certain regulations or building codes.

In some instances, local ordinances may require permits or impose restrictions on rainwater harvesting systems, especially when it comes to the construction and maintenance of larger or more complex systems.

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Best Practices for Rainwater Harvesting in California

If you’re considering installing a rainwater harvesting system in California, keep the following best practices in mind:

  1. Check local ordinances: Before you start planning your rainwater collection system, check with your local city or county government to determine if there are any specific regulations or permit requirements in your area.
  2. Choose the right system: There are various types of rainwater collection systems, ranging from simple rain barrels to more elaborate underground cisterns. Consider factors such as the size of your property, the amount of rainfall you typically receive, and your intended use of the collected water when selecting the appropriate system.
  3. Keep it clean: Rainwater is generally clean, but it can become contaminated if your collection system is not properly maintained. Ensure that your gutters and downspouts are clean and free of debris, and install leaf screens or filters to prevent contaminants from entering your storage system.
  4. Use appropriate materials: When constructing your rainwater harvesting system, choose materials that are durable and resistant to algae growth, such as UV-resistant plastic or metal. Avoid using materials that could leach harmful chemicals into the collected water, such as untreated wood or certain types of plastic. Hire a professional if you need help designing or installing a system.
  5. Conserve collected water: While rainwater harvesting can help reduce your water consumption, it’s still essential to practice water conservation. Use collected rainwater for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation, and consider incorporating other water-saving practices, like drought-tolerant landscaping and efficient irrigation systems.


Collecting rainwater in California is not only legal but also encouraged by the state government as a means of promoting water conservation and self-sufficiency. By following best practices and local regulations, Californians can reap the benefits of rainwater harvesting while minimizing environmental impact.

With climate change and increasing water scarcity concerns, rainwater collection is an excellent way for residents to contribute to a more sustainable future.

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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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