City of Austin: Rainwater Harvesting and Rebates for Rain Barrels

Austin’s water restrictions can make maintaining a lawn or garden challenging during the heat of summer, but as Texas droughts continue, it’s as important as ever to conserve water. Thankfully, for over two years now, the City of Austin has offered a special rebate program for residents and local businesses interested in collecting rainwater. Water collected from rain barrels is not only free—it is completely exempt from city water restrictions!

Whether you own a home in South Austin or work in Tarrytown, consider using the City of Austin’s rebate program to purchase a rain barrel for your home or business. Below are answers to frequently-asked questions about the program, compliments of Water Wise Austin! 

What is rainwate harvesting?

Rainwater harvesting is the collection of rainwater for future use. Rainwater can be collected in simple rain barrels or in more complex pressurized systems with large cisterns.Who qualifies for the rebate?

Applicants must be a customer of Austin Water or an eligible water provider. Rebates are issued to the property owner or utility account holder only. If you are not the property owner, but are the utility account holder and would like to apply for the rebate, please provide a letter from the property owner consenting to the installation. Please see the most current rebate application for additional eligibility criteria.

What can I use harvested rainwater for?

The most common use of harvested rainwater is landscape irrigation, but it can also be used for watering indoor plants, washing equipment, and filling fountains.

Is harvested rainwater subject to Austin’s watering schedule?

Harvested rainwater is not subject to Austin’s watering schedule. However, you may be asked to prove your water source if the system is being used in a manner that appears to not comply with the Water Conservation Code.

Does the City still sell rain barrels?

No. The City of Austin discontinued rain barrel sales in early 2009.

Where can I buy a rainwater collection tank?

The City of Austin does not endorse or recommend any particular vendor, but vendor lists are available from the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association and HarvestH2O. Additionally, an internet search might be helpful for finding resources here in Austin, as well as online vendors. Remember, only finished tanks sold exclusively for rainwater collection are eligible. Second-hand or self-made rain barrels are not eligible.

What are the steps for participation in the rebate program?

If you are installing less than 500 gallons of capacity, install your rain barrel(s) and submit your application within 30 days of purchase. If you are installing 500 gallons or more of capacity, submit your application for pre-approval prior to purchasing or installing any system components. Please see the most current rebate application for detailed steps for participation.

How much is the rebate?

Rebates of $0.50 per gallon of capacity are available for non-pressurized systems (i.e. rain barrels) and $1.00 per gallon of capacity for pressurized systems (i.e. large cisterns with a pump). The rebate may not exceed 50% of the system cost, and there is a total maximum lifetime rebate amount of $5,000 per site. For example:

-100 gallons, non-pressurized, $200 cost = $50 rebate

-100 gallons, non-pressurized, $50 cost = $25 rebate

-1000 gallons, non-pressurized, $1500 cost = $500 rebate

-1000 gallons, pressurized, $1500 cost = $750 rebate

-1000 gallons, pressurized, $2500 cost = $1,000 rebate

-10,000 gallons, pressurized, $20,000 cost = $5,000 rebate

How many times am I allowed to apply for the rebate?

You may apply for new storage capacity once per year until the $5,000 maximum lifetime rebate amount is met.

What types of tanks qualify for the rebate?

Rainwater collection tanks come in a range of shapes, sizes, and materials. Both hard-sided and soft-sided collection tanks are eligible for the rebate program, as long as they are water tight and constructed of solid, durable materials not subject to excessive corrosion or decay. Additionally, only finished tanks sold exclusively for rainwater collection are eligible.

Do existing rainwater harvesting systems qualify for the rebate?

Only new systems or system expansions are eligible – the rebate is not retroactive and it is not intended to replace existing rainwater collection systems. The intention is to encourage the installation of new systems that will offer new water savings.

What size tank should I install?

The size of your storage tank depends on several variables, including local precipitation rates, irrigation demands, catchment surface area, aesthetics, personal preference, and budget. The Texas Water Development Board’s system sizing calculator allows you to determine the supply, demand, and storage potential specific to your site.

What sort of maintenance is required with a rainwater harvesting system?

No matter how you use harvested rainwater, you will want to keep it as clean as possible. Maintenance is an ongoing duty which, at a minimum, includes trimming back trees near your roof, cleaning and repairing roofs, gutters, piping, and filters, purging and cleaning the first-flush system, monitoring tank levels, in addition to maintaining pumps and other equipment.

How do I prevent mosquito breeding?

While screens can prevent adult mosquitoes from getting into your tank, larvae can wash in from your gutters. You can help prevent breeding by installing a first-flush system, emptying the tank regularly, or adding “mosquito dunks” to the water. Mosquito Dunks are a non-toxic bacterial larvicide available at most garden supply stores.

How do I install rain barrels?

Rain barrels should be placed so that they collect as much rain as possible from your roof. If you have guttering, you can shorten a downspout, and reattach the end elbow joint to direct the flow into the barrel. If you do not have gutters, the barrel needs to be placed under a corner where two roof sections meet to create a valley. Position the barrel carefully so that it catches the trickle of water from a light rain as well as a more forceful flow during a downpour.

Can I connect rain barrels?

Yes. Connecting rain barrels is a great way to increase storage capacity and deal with overflow.

Where can I learn more about installing large-scale rainwater harvesting systems?

The Texas Water Development Board’s Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting is an excellent resource for learning more about designing, building, operating, and maintaining large-scale rainwater harvesting systems. For additional design and installation guidance, you can also reference the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association’s Rainwater Catchment Design and Installation Standards. These standards are not adopted by the City of Austin, but do offer valuable information on system design and installation.

Are there tax exemptions for installing rainwater harvesting systems?

Yes. Section 151.355 of the Texas Tax Code exempts rainwater harvesting equipment from state sales tax. Contact the Texas Comptroller’s office at 800-252-5555 for questions about the exemption of rainwater harvesting equipment from state sales tax. Government taxing bodies can also exempt from taxation all or part of the assessed value of a property on which water conservation modifications have been made.

The  REALTORS® at Regent Property Group applaud the City of Austin and its programs that help Austinites go green and save green. They also help home-buyers stay on top of the latest in real estate trends, from Lake Austin to Travis Country. On the lookout for an Austin home for sale? Check out Austin Home Search!

Click here to learn more about Austin’s Rainwater Collection Rebate.

Click here to learn about Austin’s garden Composter Rebate Program!