JoAnne Skelly: Rainwater harvesting is now legal

My friend Marie was told recently it was illegal to harvest rainwater in Nevada. She was referring to putting large barrels under gutter downspouts to catch and store water running off a roof. Many people have done this for years, but actually it was illegal in Nevada until 2017. In 2017, then Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 138, which amended existing water law to allow homeowners to collect precipitation “from the rooftop of a single-family dwelling for nonpotable domestic use.”

Rainwater harvesting is the practice of collecting and storing runoff from rooftops for later use on lawns, gardens and other landscaping. Harvesting rainwater is ancient and was followed for thousands of years as a way to supplement water supplies during dry periods. Once centralized water supply systems were developed, people got away from harvesting water. In dry areas such as Nevada, saving rainwater makes sense.

Rainwater is soft, low in salts and dissolved minerals and excellent for leaching desert soils. It can be used for pet and livestock watering, car washing and sometimes even to supplement nonpotable water uses such as toilet flushing and evaporative cooling. Harvested water should never be used for drinking water unless it has been purified. Pollutants can collect on roofs because of our infrequent rainfall. The first flush of rain on a roof may contain dust, debris, bird or other animal droppings. To eliminate these substances, many commercial rainwater-collection systems have devices that divert the first few gallons of runoff onto the ground.

Rainwater harvesting doesn’t need to be complicated. If you have a gutter system, you can attach a variety of low-cost products to downspouts to divert water to plants. Because most of our rain occurs in winter, storing rainwater can help provide water in summer months when the need is highest. Fifty-five-gallon barrels are one way to store water. With the barrel up on cinder blocks or a platform to encourage gravitational flow and a spigot a few inches above the bottom of the barrel, you can attach a hose to direct the water to needy plants. That few inches of space below the spigot will allow debris to settle out.

For detailed information, read the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension publication “Rainwater Harvesting” by Susan Donaldson at

May 10, 2:30 to 5 p.m. and May 11, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. are the Greenhouse Project’s big Mother’s Day plant sales. Get tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and flowers for your favorite mom.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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