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A Thought For the Day, Who Owns the Rain?

It might seem like a silly question and if you asked 10 people, “Who owns the rain?”, probably nine of them would say, “Nobody.” The question isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might sound, though.

For many thousands of years, people have been capturing and storing rainwater. If you read the bible, you might notice references to cisterns. That is what is being referred to. It was common during the building of a house to build a large tank for holding rainwater. The house was built over this. Each time it would rain, the water would flow to the cistern and could then be put to any use the family needed it for.

Granted, when we talk about the bible, we are talking about an arid region. However, a person might think that it applies everywhere. When it rains, it does so for all of us. If you and your neighbor are both out in the rain, you both get rained upon.

However, it might come as a shock to some people but in some places in the US, it is illegal to capture and use rainwater. Municipalities have decreed that the city (county or state) “owns” the water. Overall, this might make a little bit of sense as some areas may be suffering a drought at any given time and the municipalities want the water to replenish the aquifer. 

However, does the city or town actually own the water? It is likely that the city has nothing at all to do with the delivery of rainwater as rain. Still, people can be subject to fines if they use rain barrels or cisterns to capture the runoff from their rooves. 

  • Are you aware that it is illegal in some places in the US to save and use rainwater?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Do you agree with the concept of a city “owning” the rainwater and charging people fines if they collect and use it?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Have you ever lived in a place that made it illegal to use rainwater or to collect it?

    • Yes
    • No

What do you think?

15 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. This is a tough one, Rex. I understand why cities feel like they should force rainwater to move through the natural system.

    But, when cities arrive, the rainwater pattern changes radically.

    I can see both sides.

    in Maryland, there are taxes and rules about what can be allowed in the run off water as all of that ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

    • I can understand such a rule, though I’m not fond of a local government making it mandatory. Still, the idea of cities taking ownership of rainwater makes me shudder. In those places, people face fines if they collect and use rainwater.

  2. There should be no reason to not be allowed to collect rainwater and use it. Back in my house in Latvia we always had two barrels by two drains to collect rainwater and when it snowed in the winter we melted the snow.

    • It could easily be argued that either we all own the rainwater or none of us do. Most places consider a rainstorm to be an act of God. Even insurance policies are sometimes written that way. If the rain comes from God, He gives the rain to everyone, evenly. That is actually biblical. So a city can’t “own” the rain. It wasn’t given to the city, it was given to the people.

    • I agree with you. I don’t believe that there are any towns in Montana that have such laws, but some of the cities that do have laws like this are in areas that also get a good amount of rain every year. It isn’t like they are all in arid places.

    • I agree with you. If a city decides that they own the rain, I can also imagine quite a few other unpleasant notions that could impact people, too. For instance, if they own the rain, they also own the clouds and the air that the rain falls through. It wouldn’t at all be a stretch to imagine them imposing an “air tax” in order to get revenue for whatever pet project they might have.

  3. The house I live in, which was built in about 1910, had an underground cistern into which the water drained from the gutters. This is no longer there, but we still have the pump that was used for taking the water into the house.

    Our garden shed, which we had built about 7 years ago, collects water from its gutters into two large water butts which we use for watering the garden. This is clearly pure rainwater that has not been treated in any way and is what the plants would have been getting anyway had it not been bone dry for some time.

    I can’t see the point of making this collection illegal. If you want to save water and avoid things like hosepipe bans when the reservoirs run low, surely it makes perfect sense for individuals to collect their own supplies?

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