Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is It Illegal to Harvest Rainwater in Utah?

Collecting and using rainwater has become a hot topic in Utah during the past few months. The issue first made news headlines in August 2008 when a car dealership came under scrutiny of the Utah Division of Water Rights for collecting rainwater from the roof of the dealership’s building, storing the water in a cistern, and then using the water in a car wash. The Division informed the dealership that it needed a water right in order to divert, store, and use the rainwater. This story stirred up lots of curiosity and controversy, with many people (including state legislators) questioning why individuals should not be allowed collect and use rainwater.

During the 2009 legislative session, two bills were introduced that addressed the issue of rainwater harvesting. The first bill was Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Senator Scott McCoy. Under this bill, public water suppliers could allow individuals to capture and beneficially use precipitation under the public water supplier’s approved exchange application. The second bill was Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Senator Scott Jenkins. Under this bill, a person would be permitted to capture and store precipitation in an underground storage container with a maximum capacity of 2,500 gallons. This captured precipitation could be beneficially used without having to obtain a water right or go through the appropriation process.

Both bills passed the Senate, but were not voted on by the House. It is likely that one or both bills will be presented during the 2010 legislative session.

The Division of Water Rights has also prepared a response to the question of whether harvesting rainwater is illegal in Utah. In sum, the Division’s position is that if rainwater is merely controlled or directed (such as with rain gutters and drain piping), then a water right is not needed. However, if rainwater is stored and then later used for some other purpose rather than being released back into the drainage system, then a water right is needed.

To read the text of Utah Bill 58, click here.

To read the text of Utah Bill 128, click here.

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