Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Virginia Department of Health
State Board of Health
Rainwater Harvesting Systems Regulations [12 VAC 5 ‑ 635]
Action Rainwater Harvesting Regulations
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ended on 12/8/2023


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10/30/23  4:40 pm
Commenter: Lynn Broaddus

Rainwater Harvesting Systems Regulations [12 VAC 5 ? 635]

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these ground-breaking regulations. I live in Minnesota, but my husband and I have a home in rural Northumberland County, Virginia which we built in 2016. We intentionally incorporated many elements of sustainable design: small footprint, solar electricity, conservation easement, locally sourced lumber, etc. In addition, we included an auxiliary rainwater harvest (RWH) system, designed by the Roanoke-based firm Rainwater Management Systems. 

We opted to include an RWH system for multiple reasons: To minimize stormwater runoff, to protect the aquifer (which is part of a regionally declining groundwater system), to avoid agricultural contaminants in the water we used, and to avoid the energy used by groundwater pumping. We have been safely operating the system during the frost-free portion of the year for seven seasons and have been delighted not only with the operation of the system but also by the quality of the water. 

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to get a RHS permitted in Virginia under the current regulatory framework (which is why our system is an auxiliary system rather than a primary one) and welcome the effort to create a standard regulatory framework and transparent path for future applicants. I am grateful for the considerable effort that has gone into developing the draft regulations, and respectfully submit the following comments for consideration: 

  1. Statutory Authority: typo needs correcting. Where it refers to "Sections 32.1-12 and 32.248.2" this should be amended to read "Sections 32.1-12 and 32.1-248.2"
  2. In general, I encourage the Commonwealth to consider cost of implementation as currently drafted. The complexity of the building and design review, ongoing testing, etc. is considerable and out-of-proportion with the expectations of private wells. I fear that if implemented as written the regulations will be overly burdensome for VDH staff and homeowners alike without a proportional increase in public health. History tells us that when people are faced with what they perceive as unreasonable regulations they will simply skirt the law (e.g. Prohibition), which defeats most of the purpose of the effort to codify RHW. 
  3. 12VAC5-635-20. I support the exclusion / grandfathering of previously installed RWH systems. However, it is not clear to me how the exclusion is verified. Does the owner need to apply for the exclusion to have it properly recognized? Is this equally true for auxiliary systems?  Are they excluded from other aspects of the regulations (e.g. testing, notification when modifications are made)?
  4. 12VAC5-635-80 Permits - general. The terms "install, alter, or rehabilitate" are not defined. Does this include routine maintenance? Does this include making modest changes, like adding a water-level indicator? Perhaps the regulation needs to be amended to add "Routine inspection and maintenance, including cleaning, UV bulb or filter replacement, pipe or tank repair, etc. does not require permission from or notification to the commissioner."
  5. 12VAC5-635-100.  It strikes me that the requirements are overly burdensome, adding costs with very little added health benefit. I think this comes from the Commonwealth's discomfort with the technology, and it is creating a burden greater than what is expected for connecting to well water or municipal water. It would be good to run these requirements past an architect who has worked with homeowners building with RWH systems to get a sense of how much of a burden this would be. David Day, an architect based in Charlottesville VA, has designed a number of homes that incorporated RWH systems and may be a good person to solicit input from. 
  6. 12VAC5-635-150. The requirement for a permanent easement seems extreme, especially because most buildings have a limited lifespan. 
  7. 12VAC5-635-160 Land Records. This requirement also seems overly burdensome. There is no similar requirement for private wells, yet they are likely to be much more subject to bacterial and viral contamination. 
  8. 12VAC5-635-240 - Design and Installation. The requirement that the system be designed to withstand freezing temperatures should be waived for seasonally used systems. 
  9. 12VAC5-635-290 - Performance requirements, 6B. The requirement that the system be capable of providing 150 gallons per bedroom-day is excessive. According to a 2016 study by the Water Research Foundation, the median U.S. household water use was 125 gallons per household-day. It doesn't state how many bedrooms that represents, but even a conservative estimate of two bedrooms would suggest that a design standard of 60-gallons per bedroom-day is more in keeping with need, especially considering that domestic water use has been steadily decreasing since the 1980s. 
  10. 12VAC5-635-320. Testing every 180 days for a typical house or cottage is excessive, especially given that there are no testing requirements for private wells after initial commissioning. I suggest an alternative that allows for the elimination of testing) after the first 18 months of successful operation.

Respectfully submitted, 


Lynn Broaddus

LBroaddus@BroadviewCollaborative, 414-559-5495

4601 Humboldt Ave South, Minneapolis MN 55419. 

1441 Mundy Point Road, Callao VA 22435

Reference cited: DeOreo, William B.; Mayer, Peter; Dziegielewski, Benedykt; Kiefer, Jack (2016). Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2. Denver, Colorado: Water Research Foundation

CommentID: 220490