A handsome copper rain chain channels water off the roof

Camille Nordgren

Capture precious runoff in catch basins, barrels, and cisterns

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.”

 A hidden system channels water to thirsty plants

Camille Nordgren

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 (inharmony.com or 888/ 472-7748)

An inch of rain puts about 600 gallons of water atop a 1,000-square-foot house. Rain gutters capture it; from a downspout, you can direct it into a cistern to help water your garden.


At Islandwood Environmental Learning Center on Bain­bridge Island, Washington, three steel cisterns store rain­water from a nearby roof. By the time vegetables start growing in spring, the tanks are full and the water travels through a gravity-fed drip system to irrigate crops.

INFO Pictured cisterns are from Texas Metal Cisterns ($380 for 200-gallon size to $1,070 for 1,200-gallon size; texas metalcisterns.net).

Rob D. Brodman

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.

Rain barrels typically hold about 50 to 60 gallons each―enough to irrigate houseplants or pots on the deck. The best type is made of recycled food-grade plastic (or use a recycled wine barrel like the one pictured), with an intake line, spigot, overflow attachment, screen cover to keep out leaves, and removable solid cover.


Position the barrel beneath a downspout; to keep the rainwater pure, remove the solid cover an hour or two after rainfall has washed pollen and other pollutants off the roof.

Rain barrels cost about $100 to $150 each.

Jim McCausland

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