Prepper essentials: Tips for setting up a rainwater collection system
By Zoey Sky // Sep 28, 2022

Rainwater collection isn't always a part of some preppers' emergency preparedness plans, but it's worth considering if your area gets a lot of rainfall and you want to make sure you have access to clean water when SHTF.

But how do you get started? (h/t to

Collecting rainwater might put off some preppers, especially if they think it requires a lot of money and preparation. But you don't need an expensive setup, like a huge fancy cistern connected to different gutters and elevated off the ground for gravity-fed water.

You can make do with a small, affordable setup. And you don't have to settle for murky rainwater collected from the gutters since there are many ways to collect rainwater.

Is it legal to collect rainwater?

If you want to set up a rainwater collection system, you first need to check if it's legal to collect rainwater in your state. If you're not sure, look into your local laws.

Here's some info on the laws about rainwater collecting in some U.S. states:


The state government of Arkansas permits residents to collect rainwater, with some restrictions:

  • The water must be for non-potable uses.
  • A licensed professional engineer must design the collection system and the engineer must comply with the Arkansas Plumbing Code.


If you reside in California, you don't need a permit to collect rainwater coming from your roof.

However, this doesn't apply if you plan to use the water for landscaping. The same applies to water for use in swimming pools, fish ponds, fountains and other outdoor structures. Instead, you must sign a prime contract that permits such uses.


People who live in Colorado can only collect 110 gallons of rainwater. This water must then be used for outdoor non-potable purposes in the home where it was harvested, like irrigation and gardening.

Current restrictions in Colorado are less strict than the previous ones.

Before, the state had imposed severe restrictions on rainwater harvesting. But these restrictions were revised after research proved that only three percent of rain reached streams or absorbed by the ground.


Two statutes govern the collection of rainwater in Illinois:

The first is House Bill 991 and it requires homeowners’ associations to declare their stance on rainwater harvesting. They also need to specify the architectural requirements, design and location of the collection systems.

The second is the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act. It encourages rainwater collection with the use of efficient and sustainable methods.


Kansas requires homeowners to have water rights to harvest water.

The statute governing water collection is called The Kansas Water Appropriate Act. There's a provision for collecting some water if it’s for domestic use. It allows homeowners to harvest water for their livestock and household and for the irrigation of two acres of land.


Rainwater harvesting is legal in Louisiana, but you must use a clean, covered barrel for collection.

The state government is against the trading of polluted water, like ice.


Before 2017, harvesting rainwater was illegal in Nevada. But now, the state government allows residents to collect water for non-potable domestic use.

Nevada also permits remote guzzlers with a capacity of 20,000 gallons to keep water for wildlife as long as the catchment area isn’t bigger than one acre with a piping system that is 1/4 mile or less.


Utah might be the strictest state when it comes to rainwater collection. You can harvest rainwater in the state if you own or have leased the land on which you're collecting the water.

According to Senate Bill 32, a person can collect no more than 2,500 gallons of water in the state. Individuals who have reservoirs with a capacity of fewer than 100 gallons are exempted.


Unlike in the past, you don't need a permit to collect rainwater from rooftops if you live in Washington.

However, Washington enforces strict rules against the practice. These regulations vary by county and some are stricter than others.

Currently, you don’t need a permit to harvest rainwater, provided you use the water on the property itself.

The structures from which you collect the water must also have other purposes besides rainwater harvesting. In some counties, collecting rainwater for drinking is prohibited.

Tips for collecting clean rainwater

To collect a clean batch of water, opt for a container with a lid and a built-in screen to filter the water.

If you don't mind murky water, you can simply use large containers and leave them in open areas to collect rainwater. You can use this murky water for outdoor tasks, like watering a home garden. (Related: Water supply and prepping: A beginner’s guide to rainwater collection.)

It's best to immediately use water collected in open containers without lids so mosquitos or other bugs won't have a chance to breed in it. You could also transfer the water into a bucket or other container with a lid so it's not just sitting there out in the open.

Another option is to hook up several 55-gallon drums or even 275-gallon totes to gutters. You can place gutters on almost any structure.

For example, you can place gutters on both sides of a shed so you can collect water for two 275-gallon totes. If you opt for this setup, elevate the totes on pallets.

The pallets may seem flimsy, but they are used to hold the weight of much heavier things. As long as your structure is level, the water totes should be fine.

You can wrap the totes with tarps to keep the direct sunlight off. If you're worried about algae buildup, add some bleach to the water in the totes.

If you have a greenhouse and chicken house, you can add more gutters to collect more water in additional totes.

Is it safe to drink rainwater?

If you are concerned if the rainwater you gathered is not safe to consume, you need to learn how to filter it before consuming it yourself or giving it to your animals.

Otherwise, here are some suggestions on how to use the water you collected without filtering:

  • Use the rainwater to water your garden and lawn.
  • Use it for gray water purposes, like flushing toilets or cleaning outdoor areas in your homestead.
  • Use it to wash your clothes.

Set up a simple rainwater collection system on your homestead so you have a clean source of water when SHTF.

Visit for more ideas on useful projects for your homestead.

Watch the video below for more tips on how to build a rainwater collection system.

This video is from the Prepping101 channel on

More related stories:

Prepper essentials: What to do if you run out of water when SHTF.

Prepper must-haves: Securing your water supply before disaster strikes.

Prepper projects: Setting up a rainwater shower at your homestead.

Sources include:

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