So, Is It Illegal To Collect Rainwater in Oregon?

Water is one of the most precious resources we have, and not just for drinking. We need it for cooking, cleaning, laundry, washing, and countless other tasks both in and around the home, aside from irrigating our plants and crops.

flag of oregon

And, sure, water is plentiful in most places but the increasing frequency of droughts and the desire to be prepared with backup water for tough times have led many citizens to start collecting and tanking rainwater at their homes and businesses.

However, as difficult as it is to believe collecting rainwater is not legal everywhere, or legal at all times and in all situations. How about Oregon? Is it illegal to collect rainwater in Oregon?

Yes, collecting rainwater is legal in Oregon, though the state has many restrictions on the use of groundwater and specifies what citizens can use collected rainwater for.

Oregon is the subject of persistent rumors concerning the use of rainwater thanks to one highly publicized case where a man basically dammed up his entire property to stop public-use groundwater from flowing over it normally.

In any case, citizens can generally collect rainwater from the roof of their residence and store it for non-potable uses.

Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know about collecting rainwater in Oregon.

Is Collection of Rainwater Illegal at the State Level in Oregon?

No, contrary to popular opinion on the subject. Although Oregon has plenty of laws concerning the collection, disposition, and use of rainwater for residential and other settings, it is not patently illegal.

Why does seemingly everyone think this about Oregon? Easy: there is indeed a tale of the government cracking down on a man back in 2012 for unauthorized use of water, but it wasn’t because he was collecting rainwater.

Yes, the legal battle became fairly highly publicized, and a subject of interest for preppers, homesteaders, and other folks concerned with water rights, but it did not have hardly anything to do with rainwater.

The man in question built dams illegally across water that was flowing in channels over his property.

In Oregon, all water, and groundwater in particular, is public water. He backed up these channels to make ponds and streams on his property that he filled with fish so he could fish in them! Or, at least, that is the official story…

Suffice it to say, this is definitely a different matter than collecting rainwater off of your own roof for various uses.

Is Collection of Rainwater Illegal at the County Level?

Yes, though various counties might have their own rules and regs concerning the type of systems that can be used to collect rainwater and under what conditions you can collect it.

In short, it is not outright illegal, anywhere, in Oregon to collect rainwater one way or the other though you will have rules to follow.

Under What Conditions Can Citizens Collect Rainwater in Oregon?

Oregon does have some restrictions on the collection of rainwater, namely that rainwater harvesting may only be done using a rooftop catchment system, with exceptions only granted sometimes for alternative methods of collection.

Rainwater that hits the ground or is standing on the ground is no longer considered rainwater and cannot be collected. See OPSC/6/#2:

OPSC/6/#2

(…)
A. General. All components of the system not specifically addressed by this guide shall meet all applicable requirements of the OPSC. In addition:
1. To ensure proper system installation, the code, this guide, and any applicable manufacturer’s installation instructions must be followed;
2. All materials used in installation of piping, plumbing, or rainwater harvesting systems must be approved for the specific use in the OPSC or listed by an ANSI accredited product certification program;
3. Engineered systems shall be installed per plans and specifications of the engineer of record; and
4. Rainwater shall only be harvested from roof surfaces. Harvest shall not occur from the following locations:
a. Any vehicular or pedestrian area;
b. Surface water runoff; or
c. Bodies of standing water.
(…)

Is There a Limit on How Much Rainwater You Can Collect in Oregon?

There is no limitation to the amount of rainwater that can be collected each month in Oregon, or store, so long as it is only being collected and the approved way using approved equipment.

Rainwater can be stored in appropriately designed and approved cisterns or other containers.

What Does Oregon Allow Citizens to Use Rainwater For?

Oregon considers harvested rainwater non-potable, meaning not suitable for drinking.

Oregon declares that harvested rainwater is suitable for use in irrigation, hose bibs, toilets, urinals and other bathroom fixtures, washing of clothes, heating, charging ventilation equipment or air conditioners, and other such tasks.

In particular if you used for household tasks the system must be designed and function in a way to prevent contamination of other household water and municipal water systems.

Does Oregon Require Special Equipment or Inspection for Rainwater Collection?

Yes. Oregon allows the collection of rainwater by citizens only through the use of rooftop-mounted catchment systems that feed directly into a tank or cistern.

Other types of rain-catching systems might be approved as exemptions, but these are rare. You can read a little more about the approval of material or design in ORS 455.060:

ORS 455.060

Rulings on acceptability of material, design or method of construction
(1)Any person who desires to use or furnish any material, design or method of construction or installation in the state, or any building official, may request the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services to issue a ruling with respect to the acceptability of any material, design or method of construction about which there is a question under any provision of the state building code. Requests shall be in writing and, if made by anyone other than a building official, shall be made and the ruling issued prior to the use or attempted use of such questioned material, design or method.

(2)In making rulings, the director shall obtain the approval of the appropriate advisory board as to technical and scientific facts and shall consider the standards and interpretations published by the body that promulgated any nationally recognized model code adopted as a specialty code of this state.

(3)A copy of the ruling issued by the director shall be certified to the person making the request. Additional copies shall be transmitted to all building officials in the state. The director shall keep a permanent record of all such rulings, and shall furnish copies thereof to any interested person upon payment of such fees as the director may prescribe.

(4)A building official or inspector shall approve the use of any material, design or method of construction approved by the director pursuant to this section if the requirements of all other local ordinances are satisfied. [Formerly 456.845]

Does Oregon Offer Incentives for Rainwater Collection?

Yes, but these are relatively paltry. Oregon has the clean River rewards incentive that can allow a homeowner to save up to $130 a year on stormwater charges for a residential property if rain is safely soaked into the ground on their property and not allowed to enter sewer or stormwater pipes.

This incentive is given since it is supposed to reduce contamination of natural water sources, slow erosion, and have other benefits for man-made systems and nature alike.

It should be noted that many of the recommended solutions used to qualify for the program, including rain catchment systems, French drains, and the like, still require a permitting process to be installed on most properties.

Considering the cost of such installations, how long would it take a homeowner to recoup their good-faith investment at only $130 a year? It does not make sense, but that is Oregon for you.

Bottom Line: Is Oregon a Good State for Rainwater Collection?

Oregon is a reasonably good state when it comes to the collection of rainwater, despite the unearned reputation.

They certainly have many intricate requirements, permits, and other standards that must be met, and their incentive programs are pretty lacking.

But so long as you have the system set up correctly with all the signatures you need for operation you can collect about as much water as you want which might be the only thing that matters for some people.

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