Today I’ll be addressing three rumors I’ve recently heard that are scaring folks in my community:
1) Is collecting rainwater illegal?
2) Is the government banning “off-grid” living?
3) Is the government moving against peaceful communes?
Also, I will address my issues with this new fad of “survival homesteading,” a term that raises many red flags with me.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not always the brightest bulb in the box. There was a day where my brain was so off I couldn’t see a yellow-handled hammer lying on the ground four feet away from me while someone pointed directly at it. No joke. I graduated with an average GPA in high school, never completed college, and my wittiest comments come hours too late.
However, my life on the road gave me some pretty well-developed instincts. So when I hear something that isn’t accurate, I may not know why at the time, but something in me tells me, “That dog don’t hunt…”
Is Collecting Rainwater Illegal?
One rain barrel is rarely an issue.
The short answer is No, there is no federal law stating collecting rainwater is illegal. Laws regulating the use of rain or grey water are specific to state and region. Most of the paranoid rumors are coming from old blog articles and threads from states in the West, where water regulations have been in place for many years. Most of these are high-risk fire zones, like Southern California, Colorado, and parts of Texas. These laws fluctuate all the time, depending on many factors from rainfall to some politician forgetting to modify the laws.
Politicians and “fear-bloggers” also use this as a tactic to garner more favor from the public. I was sad to see a 2010 article by Ron Paul promoting this rumor, which just goes to show that all politicians, no matter how “morally righteous,” are really out for themselves.
When you read about folks getting in serious trouble for collecting rainwater, it usually has to do with impressively large amounts of water, like in the case of this guy who collected 13 million gallons, or the car dealership guy using it to wash his cars in the drought-riddled state of Utah. Both persons suffered very small penalties in comparison to other “minor crimes.”
The fact is, most states PROMOTE the collection of rainwater, but you don’t hear of those, do you?
If you want to know the laws regarding the collection and use of rainwater in your state, don’t just rely on rumors, go research for yourself on your state’s agriculture laws website. Here is just one state-by-state listing.
Is It Becoming Illegal to Live “Off-Grid?”
This rumor comes from a report of a widow living in Cape Coral, Florida who was asked to vacate her property after the city found out she was not hooked up to the local power and water supply. According to this article, she is fighting the city’s antiquated laws and slowly winning. It’s of interesting note that the city pretty much ignored her until she made her lifestyle public on local news. She may very well change the law for the better.
A larder I’d love to have on my homestead.
Again, laws against off-grid living are extremely localized – they are usually city ordinances – and easy to maneuver around. There are no federal laws, nor do I find anything that states the feds give a crap. So long as you have a clean, running water system hooked up to your home and a sanitary sewage disposal system, the health department will look the other way. Find out your area’s zoning laws and figure out a way to comply with those laws while still, technically, living off-grid. Keep your homestead well-maintained, get to know your neighbors, and don’t do something stupid like trying to grow hemp (until it’s legalized, that is), or hording weapons.
Better yet, don’t go completely off-grid, but figure out how you can SUPPLY your local power provider with electricity. I know plenty of people who get paid by the power company for their excess power from windmills or solar panels. That turns you from a “lazy hippy” into a “valued supplier.”
Most of the non-political negative commentary I ran across came mostly from this extreme “off-grid survival” site that offered very little in the way of practical advice and was riddled with promos and advertisements. They like to take a handful of reports and blow them way out of proportion – like a PETA for survivalists! (What, like there is such thing as “ON-gird” survival???)
BEWARE! They might HUG YOU TO DEATH!
Is the Government Cracking Down on Communes?
There’ve been crackdowns on communes since the 60’s, and there is still no federal law against them. There’s not really any state laws, either. It all boils down, once again, to local zoning regulations and a handful of paranoid neighbors claiming illegal activity on the commune property. Sometimes there really is a major grow operation happening, but most of the time the cops raid the place only to discover a handful of half-naked hippies pressing wheat grass and making gardens out of used tires. No drugs, no weapons, no illegal activities whatsoever, and nothing to make their time worthwhile in the courts.
In the case of a recent SWAT team raid of a commune in Texas, the cops swooped in, destroyed a handful of crops, confiscated a bit of garbage and in the end arrested only one person for “outstanding traffic tickets.” Because the members of the commune behaved in a peaceful and compliant manner, no one was harmed and the owner was able to keep her property without prosecution. Click here to read about the amazing details of this particular case.
Again, I will note, that no one gave a rat’s ass about this commune until they started openly advertising their lifestyle online. There’s always that one dumb redneck in the neighborhood (especially in Texas)
One of the many signs at Bishop’s Castle.
who saw a picture of a half-naked hippie flying a peace sign and thought, “DRUGS! GUNS! WACO!” Otherwise, why’d they send a SWAT team?
There Will Always Be Stupid Laws
The point is, there will always be stupid laws that infringe on the rights of US citizens. Many of these are old, outdated, or rarely contended. Greedy or ignorant persons will always try to target those trying to make an honest living and/or free life. It is the responsibility of all of us as individuals to empower ourselves with knowledge of the laws and to comply as much as possible with those laws and in the event those laws become unreasonable, fight them.
One famous case is that of Bishop’s Castle in Colorado. The sole builder, Jim Bishop, fought local authorities for 40 years just for the right to build a castle on his own property. I got to visit the castle, which is an utter masterpiece and still to this day free to the public. To read his inspiring story, click here: The Story of Bishop’s Castle.
“Survival” Homesteading — Now Here’s a Dog That Don’t Hunt
On one final note is the red flags that go off in the back of my mind when I hear the term “Survival Homesteading.” For one, that is a contradiction in terms. Survival means not dying in extreme circumstances. Homesteading is, essentially, farming – building a nice, comfy home, keeping livestock, tending a garden. Some skills cross over, such as knowing how to skin, clean and quarter an animal for cooking, but when you’re homesteading, you don’t worry about whether or not the weather will permit you to make a fire to cook said animal.
For an article that explains the difference far better than I could, read the article Survival vs. Homesteading by Frank Borelli.
This survival kit sells for $595.95 online. Worthless if you can escape with only the shirt on your back.
What raises the red flags for me is that lately survivalism and emergency preparedness are becoming a social fad fed by an overly-paranoid public. A lot of the websites I’m finding on the subject feel and look like anarchist groups, and many are product-driven. They want you to veer away from “corporate America,” but they want to sell you something while doing it. Many are also government-bashers, which in my opinion has nothing to do with the actual skill of surviving and everything to do with fear and politics. It’s Y2K all over again.
I fear that this anarchist attitude will become associated with the backyard garden, and thus unfairly targeting innocent, law-abiding citizens who just want a few tasty tomatoes for their salads. I don’t want to see my local, small-time farmer labeled a terrorist because of a slew of ignorant city slickers.
Oh, and here’s the truth about survival for all you city idiots: No matter how prepared you are, the least little screw-up and you’re just another candidate for the Darwin Awards.