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Yes, it is legal to collect rainwater in Arkansas. Unlike in western states, collecting rainwater in a barrel for gardening or other
uses has no restrictions in Arkansas.
A great way to collect rainwater is with a rain barrel! To get started, check out
our how to build a rain barrel page .
“Water rights” refers to the right of users to take water from a water source and
use it or sell it. In areas where there is plenty of water and low demand, there is
not much controversy; but where demand is high, like in western states, conflict over
water can determine success or failure of agricultural enterprises, limit growth and
development of cities, and determine profitability of industries.
Visit the National Ag Law Center's article for information on water laws across the United States
Water law and water rights have generally evolved in two divergent directions, riparian
doctrine and doctrine of prior appropriation. Under riparian doctrine, water rights
belong to those landowners whose land physically touches a river, pond, or lake. In most states, the water rights are transferred in the sale of land.
The water laws in Arkansas are all based on riparian doctrine.
Under riparian doctrine, the riparian landowner has a right to the water, with some
limits. Generally, it may not be unreasonably detained or diverted. However, the definition
of reasonable use varies from state to state.
Domestic use—a right of the riparian landowner—is usually limited to the quantity
of water needed for a family, a garden, and in some cases grazing animals. Domestic
use by riparian landowners is usually protected without issuance of a permit.
Arkansas is in the humid region of the U.S. It has a large number of lakes and rivers
and historically has had few periods of water shortage. Like most eastern states,
it recognizes the riparian doctrine as the basis for water law.
Arkansas distinguishes between publicly owned navigable waterways (see definition below)
and privately owned non-navigable waterways that are owned by riparian landowners.
Riparian landowners may use all of the water they need from the adjacent source, but
must limit their use if all riparian needs cannot be met. A riparian landowner who
wishes to divert more than 325,900 gallons (1 acre-foot) in any given year, must register
with the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission (ANRC). Failure to register is subject to penalty. Riparian rights may not be sold
apart from the land.
A non-riparian landowner may apply for a permit to divert water if there is excess
water (see definition below). Based on the estimation procedure specified in Arkansas
statute, Arkansas has more than 10 million acre-feet of excess water.
Before a non-riparian application is considered, the applicant must show proof that
he/she has leased or has received permission from a riparian landowner to form an
easement. The Director determines if the proposed water is excess water, and if it
is intended for a reasonable and beneficial use (see definition below). The Director
may grant the permit and place conditions such as restricting withdrawal to certain
seasons. A non-riparian landowner may lose his/her permit if any condition of the
permit is violated or if the water is not put to use within two years from the date
of issuance. The applicant for a water permit has the right to protest the action
of the Director in either granting or canceling a permit. Permits may be issued for
periods up to 50 years.
The following uses of water are permitted without allocation:
The application processes for intra- and inter-basin transfers (see definition below)
are similar, except that inter-basin transfer requires the ANRC to hold a hearing
with public notice. Permits for both intra- and inter-basin transfers may be bought
and sold unless the permit is for irrigation. Permits for irrigation require installation
of flow-metering devices to measure the amount of water diverted.
Interstate transfer or sale of water (except bottled water) requires a process similar
to the intra and inter-basin transfer, however that the Arkansas General Assembly
must approve the permit after the ANRC evaluates: (1) water availability in Arkansas
and in the state to where it will be sold, (2) the present and future water demands
of water users in Arkansas, (3) whether there are water shortages in Arkansas, (4)
whether the water to be transported could be used to alleviate water shortages within
Arkansas, and (5) the demands placed upon the applicant’s supply in the state of intended
use. If the ANRC recommends the transfer of water, it will recommend a price to be
paid to the state of Arkansas.
The ANRC has developed a system of priorities for water allocation during periods
of water shortage. Domestic and municipal use, minimum stream flow, and federal reserved
rights must first be met. Once these needs are met, there is an allocation hierarchy
that gives first priority to riparian landowners involved in agriculture, followed
by industry, hydropower, and recreation. Next preference is given to riparian landowners
who are not registered but have used the water before, followed by non-riparian intra-basin
transfers, and then non-riparian inter-basin transfers. At the bottom of the list,
and the first that must decrease or cease diversions, are out of state transfers and
riparian landowners who have never used the water.
Arkansas landowners have a right to withdraw ground water from underlying aquifers
without limit as long as the water is put to beneficial use. This right cannot be
sold separately from the land. Registration is required for wells with a maximum flow
rate greater than 50,000 gallons per day.
Even though Arkansas has a lot of surface water, 63 percent of the water utilized
comes from ground water. In 2005 there were almost 55,000 registered wells reported,
98 percent designated for irrigation. In some areas, the ground water is being withdrawn
faster than it can be recharged, resulting in declining levels. If an aquifer is affected
by over pumping, the ANRC may list it as critical. Consequently, a five-county area
of the Sparta Aquifer in Southern Arkansas and the alluvial and Sparta/Memphis aquifers
in the Grand Prairie Area in Eastern Arkansas were designated critical regions in
1996 and 1998, respectively. Although the critical regions are not regulated, there
are tax incentives for water conservation practices.
A law passed in 2001 identified the Sparta, Memphis, Cockfield, Cane River, Carrizo,
Wilcox, Nacatoch, Roubidoux, and Gunter formations as sustaining aquifers (see definition
below) and mandated that any wells withdrawing water from them must have a properly
functioning metering device. Domestic wells were exempt.
Download our factsheet for more information on water rights in Arkansas
Smolen, M. D., Mittelstet, A., & Harjo, B. (2017, April 1). Whose water is it anyway? comparing the water rights frameworks of Arkansas, Oklahoma,
Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida - Oklahoma State University. Whose Water Is It Anyway? Comparing the Water Rights Frameworks of Arkansas, Oklahoma,
Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida | Oklahoma State University Extension.
Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/whose-water-is-it-anyway.html
Water law overview. National Agricultural Law Center. (2022, January 6). Retrieved June 1, 2022, from