How to catch, store, and use rainwater

Capture precious runoff in catch basins, barrels, and cisterns

Rainwater chain channel

A rain chain channels water off the roof, into a catch basin hidden beneath river rocks

Camille Nordgren

Rainwater garden swale

Water runs the length of a hidden 4-inch-wide flexible plastic pipe under a permeable path and into a planted infiltration basin.

Camille Nordgren

Copper rainwater chain

Rainwater from a nearby roof fills these tanks, then travels through a gravity-fed drip system to irrigate crops.

Rob D. Brodman

Copper rainwater chain

Use a barrel to store enough rainwater to irrigate plants in your house or on your deck.

Jim McCausland

Plant a rain garden

When rain falls in Seattle, homeowner Lyn Dillman smiles: Water that used to run down the street now pools in a thickly planted infiltration basin at the garden’s edge, where it percolates into the groundwater below.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says landscape designer Malissa Gatton. “The garden helps reduce this household’s environmental footprint. Anybody could do it.”

If you have soil that drains well, a rain garden is a great option. Channel rainwater from the roof into a shallowly buried pipe that empties into an infiltration basin or swale at least 10 feet away from your house.

Grow water-tolerant plants such as shrub willows in the basin.

Design: Malissa Gatton ( or 888/ 472-7748)

Who owns the rain?

All Western states except Colorado and Utah give you the freedom to catch and use rainfall; some jurisdictions even require it. Here’s how different states see it.

Arizona The state offers an individual income-tax credit to cover 25 percent (up to $1,000) of the cost of rainwater-capture systems.

Colorado Your roof is considered a tributary to a stream somewhere, so unless you have water rights in that drainage, you can’t legally harvest rainwater. However, state legislators this year will consider a bill to permit the collection of water for irrigation.

New Mexico Santa Fe County requires cisterns for commercial buildings and for all new houses larger than 2,500 square feet; smaller dwellings must have rain barrels, berms, or swales to make use of rainfall.

Utah Rainwater is state property; homeowners can’t legally keep it. State Senator Scott Jenkins plans to introduce legislation this month that would allow homeowners to harvest rainwater.

Washington Existing law is ambiguous, so the state’s Department of Ecology doesn’t enforce laws that might regulate rainfall harvest.

More 3 ways to catch and store rainwater

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