a rain capture cistern

Austin’s Rainwater Harvesting Rebate: What to Know

There’s $5,000 on the table from Austin Water for all customers. All it takes to apply is to follow some basic guidelines and fill out a checklist.

Rainwater harvesting can save you money, especially on landscape irrigation. Anyone irrigating their outdoor space with captured rainwater is not subject to the City of Austin’s watering schedule. Equipment is also tax exempt, and you can treat collected water for drinking and general home use.

Maas Verde performs system installs at scale for residential, commercial, and civic clients. In conjunction with a rain garden or other erosion-resistant landscape design, it’s feasible to store thousands of gallons of rainwater on most properties.

Here’s your guide to claiming a City of Austin rainwater harvesting rebate.

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What the Rebate Covers

This rebate helps offset install and equipment costs on rainwater harvesting systems, up to half the total system cost. The city pays $0.50 per gallon of capacity for non-pressurized systems (no pump) and $1.00 per gallon of capacity for pressurized systems.

Eligible costs include tanks, pads, screens, filters, first-flush attachments, selected piping and all labor associated with install.

The rebate does not cover delivery/shipping, gutters, or irrigation — although the city does make $1,000 in irrigation upgrade rebates available to residents.

Rebates max out at $5,000 per property. There is no limit on system capacity. Examples of rebates:

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

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

    • 1,000 gallons, non-pressurized, $1,500 cost = $500 rebate

    • 1,000 gallons, pressurized, $1,500 cost = $750 rebate

    • 1,000 gallons, pressurized, $2,500 cost = $1,000 rebate

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

a pressurized water holding tank for irrigation
A pressurized water holding tank for irrigation.

Who Can Apply

Any customer of Austin Water or another eligible provider with a bill in their name qualifies for the rebate. The city specifies that the applicant “must be the property owner or utility account holder.”

You’ll also need to agree to let the city perform pre- and post-install inspections on the system, and must “intend” to keep it in service for a minimum of five years (500 gallons or less) or ten years (over 500 gallons).

Austin Water also reserves the right to reference your system in outreach materials.

Rainwater Catchment System Requirements

This rebate applies to any qualifying new rainwater harvesting equipment, including brand new systems or expansions of existing systems. Tanks must be enclosed, purpose-built for rainwater collection, either metal with a lined interior or painted plastic.

Systems with a total capacity of less than 500 gallons face fewer requirements and regulations than systems over 500 gallons. The city specifies that any tank over 500 gallons must have a first-flush diversion system and a level base made of gravel, sand, or concrete. (Maas Verde recommends concrete for this size tank.)

Pressurized systems must meet city requirements for auxiliary water systems. If you’re considering a pump-operated setup, refer to Austin’s Cross Connection Control/Water Protection permits.

How To Apply

For a system that holds 500 gallons or less, all you need to do is fill out the one-page rebate application and send it to the City of Austin along with an itemized, dated receipt. You can do this before or after system install (within 30 days if after). Your check should arrive within 6-8 weeks, according to Austin Water.

For systems over 500 gallons in capacity (including multiple smaller tanks connected in series), you’ll need pre-approval.

Fill out the same one-page application form. Then include the following:

    • Site Drawing: show locations of buildings, streets, existing/proposed tank(s), water
      meter, and piping from the tank to the landscaped areas. Identify the size of the
      catchment area (usually the roof) and the area you will water with rainwater.

    • System Drawing: sketch plans for the system. Show piping, first-flush diversion
      system, pump location (if applicable), tank material, dimensions, placement, pad
      materials (must be gravel, sand, or concrete) and construction.

    • Operation & Maintenance Guide: describe how the system will function and how you
      will maintain it.

    • Photographs: show the area the cistern will be located.

(Maas Verde can perform these services for all clients.)

After the City of Austin approves your plan, you can secure permitting and start construction within 90 days. Once installed, you’ll submit a rebate calculation worksheet, itemized and dated receipt, and photos of the finished project.

After any post-install inspection and approval, you’ll receive a check in 6-8 weeks.

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Learn More

Collecting rainwater can substantively function toward resource conservation. Most rainwater catchment systems support general outdoor uses like irrigation or washing equipment.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) explains some benefits of rainwater, such as its high capacity to support plant growth due to its softness and low sodium content. Rainwater also generally contains fewer particulates from atmospheric gases and pollutants than municipal water, the TWDB points out.

Finally, softer water helps appliances and fixtures last, limiting scale.

In terms of ecological viability, the TWDB found as early as 2002 that rainwater harvesting can help some Texas communities “close the gap” between water supply and demand. Recent examples of this gap include this summer’s closure at Jacob’s Well, following alleged aquifer misuse by a local utility provider.

A Texas State University team outlined one model for rainwater harvesting on a development-scale basis in the Texas Hill Country. Using the hydrologic cycle as a baseline, the team explained how “efficient use of the water resource may be enhanced by ‘tightening’ water loops, using strategies such as residential-scale rainwater harvesting.”

Maas Verde recommends Austin Water’s rainwater harvesting rebate FAQ page as a quick reference. The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) provides technical information about system install and operation. And the TWDB’s rainwater catchment manual (linked above) is a highly comprehensive resource for anyone looking to learn more.

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