Capture precious runoff in catch basins, barrels, and cisterns

Jim McCausland  – January 7, 2009 | Updated April 19, 2020

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.

Who owns the rain?

All Western states give you the freedom to catch and use rainfall to some extent; 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 rainwater collection is restricted to two barrels per home.

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, and as in Colorado, homeowners are restricted to two collection barrels per property–unless they register with the Division of Water Resources, in which case they are allowed to collect up to 2,500 gallons of water at a time.

Washington: Laws have eased in recent years, and while the state doesn’t strongly encourage water capture, the collection is perfectly legal.

More: 3 ways to catch and store rainwater

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