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Illustration: William Leung

Illustration: William Leung

A new law may finally permit Californians to legally harvest rainwater

By Lovelle Harris

Originally published in Sacramento News & Review on 03.24.11

In “Dancin’ in the Rain,” author Shel Silverstein writes about frolicking in a downpour. Had Silverstein written the poem today, an era of increasing need for water conservation, perhaps he would have focused on harvesting the rain instead.

Problem is, capturing rainwater is a gray legal area. But a new bill making rounds in the Capitol would, if passed, allow landowners to harvest rainwater. Introduced last month by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, Assembly Bill 275, or the Rainwater Capture Act, would permit homeowners to install, maintain and operate rain-capture devices for nonpotable, or nondrinking, purposes.

“It does rain in California,” observed Solorio, jokingly. “We just don’t do a very good job of capturing that rain for later use.”

Instead of letting the flood of rainwater go down the drain, securing it in barrels for landscaping and gardening use, known as “rainwater harvesting,” is gaining popularity among the water-conservation movement.

“There are many benefits of rainwater capture,” explained Sierra Club’s Jim Metropulos. “It allows a homeowner to recycle on their own. It allows them to store free water from the sky for outdoor gardens and lawns.”

On March 1, a report by Department of Water Resources hydrologists confirmed that the water content in California mountains’ snowpack is well above average, and readings indicate water content is 124 percent of normal statewide. So conservationists are calling for Californians not to take this winter’s robust snowpack and plentiful rainfall for granted.

“Definitely in California, we should be very conscious of water use,” Metropulos said. “With population growth, urban development and climate issues, having your own way to store water limits the demand on potable water and reduces pollution from trash, chemicals and oil from running off into our oceans.”

Solorio, who is chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Regional Approaches to Addressing the State’s Water Crisis, wants to put water in the hands of the people and clear up misconceptions about the legality of rainwater capture. “Researching the issue here in California, we found that the law is ambiguous about whether it’s even lawful to have a rain barrel,” he explained. “We thought, ‘Let’s make it clear that it is allowable.’”

The Assembly member also wants to encourage communities to build more sophisticated rainwater-capture systems that empower individual homeowners and small businesses.

Although the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, public-interest organization that promotes environmental conservation by influencing public-policy decisions, hasn’t officially adopted a stance on A.B. 275, as its legislative committee will be meeting to discuss the bill at the end of the month, the organization supports rainwater harvesting.

“This practice allows a person greater control of their water,” Metropulos said. Rainwater harvesting can be as simple as installing a rain barrel, according to the Sierra Club, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Another component of the bill would also allow landscaping contractors, working within the confines of his or her license, to install rainwater-capture systems for landscape irrigation.

“It also becomes a job-innovation bill,” Solorio argued. “We talk about ‘green’ jobs, and this [bill] provides us an opportunity to talk about how there are also ‘blue’ jobs.”

According to Solorio, the bill will likely be presented to the Legislature for vote in April.

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