September 26 2012

Rain Barrels Over a Sole-Source Aquifer: Who Owns the Sky?


Washington, like many other western states, did not allow rain barrel use whatsoever until the last few years. Colorado modernized its pioneer-age laws regarding water rights in July 2009, allowing rain barrel usage to anyone to any degree, so long as they have a permit and did not interfere with any other’s water rights.

Washington soon followed in October of the same year, however, here one may only harvest water which:

1. Has run off of a rooftop;

2. Is stored in a rain barrel or underground storage system;

3. Is used solely on the property which it was harvested on;

4. The amount does not harm others’ water rights or the public water supply.

Legally, in Washington, anybody can harvest rainwater whether they are above the Spokane Aquifer or not. However, whether this is morally right or wrong can become a bit of a grey area. First, let’s look at the positives that a rainwater harvesting system can have both at a personal and municipal level:

1. It can save a household up to 50% on the average monthly metered water bill;

2. You will, by default, save potable water;

3. Rainwater has many uses: watering a garden or lawn, washing your car, or scrubbing the deck;

4. Save energy by not requiring the city to pump so much potable water to your service area.

In essence, it seems as though rainwater harvesting isn’t for the hippies anymore: it is for the frugal penny-saver, the eco-conscious hipster, the gardener, vehicle enthusiast, and busy bee in us all.

Now, for the negatives:

1. It is a significant investment of up to $2,000This is not a low-income-friendly project for this reason and could be seen as a way to further divide the classes, as many of these “going green” projects tend to do.

2. Because people would be paying less for their decreased usage of the city water supply, it could mean less maintenance cash for the city, making for longer periods between the servicing and the replacement of pipes.

3. In Spokane’s case, the City’s sole source of potable water is the Spokane Aquifer. One could easily argue that no matter how small the amount annually taken by residents, it means less for the aquifer and therefore the common public. If the aquifer were to not recharge for the next 100 years as well as it has in the past, we could see a draught. This law could be blamed by politicians and residents and it could be overturned and pioneer-days water rights laws may be needed once again.

What side are you on? Do you believe rainwater harvesting is the way of the past and the future, or should the public aquifer be preserved as much as possible?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 at 6:42 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Rain Barrels Over a Sole-Source Aquifer: Who Owns the Sky?”

  1. the oncoming storm Says:

    well, it’s easy to see that the publisher is attempting to scare people away from water collection. especially since a collection system can be assembled for the cost of a pair of 55 gallon drums and the gutter system. sorry but that’s way less than $2,000. more like $400 plus permit charges if you’re a diy’er.

    they really expect everyone to believe that collecting rainwater prevents aquifer recharge?! get a clue! the water for the aquifer mainly comes from the mountain top runoff in the spring and seepage from the river. even if you had 200 people collecting water, compare the surface aria of each house roof with the surface aria covered by the average rain shower and the results are laughable. that’s like saying the 5 gallon bucket in your yard is going to detrimentally affect how much water the ground absorbs when you run your sprinkler. the only reason a drought would happen is by a decrease in the snow pack due to shifting weather patterns, which has been happening the last decade. not because a group of people are collecting rain water. that concept is an absolute joke.

    the real issue here is spokane county greed. the real impact would be lower water bills for those who actually decide to install a collection system. the rest has been thrown in as a scare tactic and support for anti-collection leanings.

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