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Noah Garrison’s Blog

California Looks to Allow Captured Rainwater in the Indoors

Noah Garrison

Posted February 9, 2011

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After a series of heavy storms in November and December dropped record breaking amounts of snow and rain in California, the state’s weather has taken a turn for the drier.  California’s Sierra snowpack, the source of water supply for nearly one-third of the state's residential, industrial, and agricultural needs, received only 13% of its average monthly precipitation in January.  The reduced precipitation now means less water for millions of Californians later.  It’s encouraging then, that the California Legislature is looking at promoting the use of rainwater capture, a commonsense, but vastly underutilized practice, as a means of increasing water supplies in a state that has been hard hit by drought in recent years.

This past Monday, AB 275, the Rainwater Capture Act of 2011 was introduced into the California State Assembly.  The bill would explicitly authorize landowners to install rain barrel systems or cisterns to capture rainwater for outdoor, non-potable uses such as landscape irrigation.  This practice is, in general, already permissible in the state. However, the bill would also authorize landowners to install systems to capture rainwater for use, with proper treatment, in indoor non-potable applications, such as toilet or urinal flushing.  Allowing rainwater to be used for indoor applications would greatly expand the opportunities to capture and use rainwater in the state.  The more uses rainwater can be directed to, the faster storage tanks can be emptied, and the more water can be captured.

California is increasingly reliant on sources of water—the Sierra snowpack, the Colorado River—that are subject to unpredictable weather patterns and increasingly the effects of climate change.  Yet, while the state struggles to meet its water supply needs, we treat rainwater as a waste product to be disposed of as quickly as possible, channeling and funneling it into the nearest river, lake, or the Pacific Ocean.  Captured rainwater can instead be used in place of water from these other sources, reducing demand on the state's already strained supplies.  

States such as Georgia, Virginia, and Oregon have all recognized the benefits of using rainwater to meet the state’s supply needs, and have directly permitted the indoor use of captured rainwater.  The state of Texas directed its Water Development Board and other agencies to formulate recommendations for minimum water quality standards for non-potable and potable indoor uses.  But in California, while capturing rainwater for outdoor uses has slowly been gaining popularity in the state as a means of increasing local water supplies, the use of captured rainwater for indoor applications has lagged behind.  In the absence of statewide authorization, one of the few cities to permit the use of captured rainwater for indoor, non-potable applications is the City of San Francisco, which had to engineer a memorandum of understanding between its Public Utilities Commission, Department of Building Inspection, and Department of Public Health to permit the practice.  California has largely overlooked rainwater as a resource, while other states realized it's invaluable.

In December, hundreds of billions of gallons of water rained down on California's cities and towns, only to run off of its rooftops, streets, and parking lots to be dumped into the nearest water body.  Only one month later, the rain has been replaced by unusually dry weather, bringing with it a sense of uncertainty about the state’s water supplies for the coming year.  California needs to permit and encourage the use of captured rainwater, for as many uses as possible, both indoor and outdoor, to ensure our water supply goals are met.  While we will have to wait to see the final form that the Rainfall Capture Bill of 2011 will take, any step towards that end is promising.

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mike ruckFeb 10 2011 11:46 AM

Noah, great article. More information on rainwater harvesting can be found at The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association's website -

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