I have been designing and installing rainwater harvesting systems in King County and throughout Washington State for 15 years and am still amazed and dismayed at the misinformation that is presented to the pubic when inquiring about the legality, procedures, and permitting for rainwater harvesting.
TRUTH: Rainwater collection is legal throughout Washington State
Washington State Department of Ecology issued an interpretive policy statement clarifying that a water right is not required for rooftop rainwater harvesting. As described by Washington State Department Ecology, Clarifications of Washington State Rainwater Law Pol 1017 in reference to RCW980.03 & RCW90.54 and the Environmental Protection Agency’s paper on Rainwater Harvesting Conservation, Credit, Codes, and Cost Literature Review and Case Studies
False: Rainwater harvesting is not allowed for drinking water in Washington State.
It is up to each county and city in Washington State to allow for potable usage of rainwater. King, Jefferson, Whatcom, San Juan, Skagit, and Island are counties that currently allow potable use of rainwater for a single-family residence. It is the health department of those counties that are the typical authorities for regulations and permitting.
Here are some resources for gathering information about rainwater collection guidelines in Washington:
As Washington State counties are recognizing the benefits of rainwater collection and the fact that rainwater can provide a viable source of water for potable usage, other counties will adopt RWC as an alternative water source.
RainBank Rainwater Systems is the leader in rainwater collection system designs and installations in Washington State and president Ken Blair is the NW Regional Representative for The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA). RainBank is committed to helping customers and counties understand the benefits, standards, and policies of rainwater harvesting in order to provide a clean, safe, viable source of quality water.
Seattle waterfront park photo is courtesy of Nicola under Creative Commons
Snohomish County has over 1,000 water districts that are close to drying up, which ramps up the need to purchase potable water from the city of Everett. Spada Lake is dangerously low, which jeopardizes water availability for fighting fires
Pierce County faces a similar issue – small water districts are running out of supply, forcing the potential for needing to purchase water from the city of Tacoma. The Center for Urban Waters, led by the University of Washington Tacoma, promotes rainwater collection, while some of the districts are not fully supportive of the concept.
Is it time for both of these counties to adopt RWC for potable use?
Snohomish County is surrounded by other counties that have expanded RWC to include potable usage. These counties recognize that potable use of rainwater for single-family dwellings is not a threat to public safety or to the revenue of their water districts. King, Skagit, Whatcom, San Juan, Jefferson, and Island counties all accept the benefits of potable RWC for single-family dwellings.
RainBank Rainwater Systems along with support from the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) will continue to educate these two counties as well as others by offering seminars, workshops, and general discussion on the benefits of RWC to motivate them to allow potable usage of rainwater.
Please watch the recently aired KIRO News report about small water districts that are running out of water.
Photo courtesy of King.
There is a solution for the landowners in Skagit County for potable water and obtaining a building permit, while protecting the in stream flow rules.
Skagit County has issued the first water availability and building permit with rainwater collection as the single source of water for a single family residence. The Department of Ecology has been promoting rainwater harvesting since 2009 statewide. It is up to each county to decide whether potable usage is allowed. Whatcom, King, Jefferson, Island, and San Juan Island counties have been allowing rainwater collection for some time now with great success. The Department of Ecology has encouraged Skagit County to promote the use of RWC with little support from the Health Department.
Rather than continuing the “water war” in the valley, the Building and Health Departments should be promoting rainwater collection. Let the people know that there is a viable solution, so they can build their homes. Offer real case studies from other counties on the quality, availability, and affordable costs of a RWC system. Education about alternative water sources is available from the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA
) and myself, president of RainBank Rainwater Systems. There are well over 1,000 potable rainwater collection systems in the state providing clean, safe, and reliable water solutions, at costs similar to well-drilling.
Rainwater collection is beneficial to the environment, it mitigates stormwater runoff. Further benefit is found by protecting and replenishing our aquifers and supporting in stream flow rates.