I have read that in federal states like Australia and the US underground water belongs to the government. Unauthorized borehole being illegal even if you are the owner of the land. What is the case with rain water in these countries? Are you free to collect that or does that also belong to the government?

  • 1
    This issue intersects another issue: theft of sewage services. When a city provides water and sewer, water is metered and sewer is not - it's presumed to be approximately the volume of water purchased. When you collect rain or ground water, that monkey-wrenches that metering/billing system, so the city has a stake in asking "are you putting this down the drain?" Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 1:19
  • A factory canning, say, soup, could separate their city water consumption for cleaning equipment, washrooms for employees, etc, and water hat winds up in the soup can. They can then avoid the sewage portion of the water bill on the latter water consumption.
    – DJohnM
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 8:14

1 Answer 1


Water ownership (rights) in the US is determined by local law, and things can be different for catching rainwater vs. extracting underground water. In Washington state, you have to have a right to take any amount of surface water, but you can take state underground water without a right in amounts less that 5,000 gallons per day (non-agricultural) or non-commercial irrigation of a half-acre or less. Collection of rainwater is managed at the county level and depends on purpose. In general (by policy of the Dept. of Ecology which is authorized to interpret the law in this domain), you can collect rainwater if it is used on the property where it is collected, but it must be collected from a structure with a different purpose (e.g. runoff from a roof, not a structure simply designed to scoop up all of the rainwater). Your county can prohib you from drinking it. This paper (360pp) emitted by the AG in 2000 gives various details about water law in Washington.

But ultimately, nobody owns the water. You can temporarily use it, but when you're done with it it can be temporarily used by someone else, and you cannot reclaim the water as your rightful property. Once the water flows out of the state, not even the state government exercises control over the water unless there's relevant inter-state law about water usage (which there is).

  • Off course ownership and usage rights is not the same. I realise that now
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 4:32

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