Rainwater Harvesting Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Rainwater Harvesting?

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is the collection and storage of rainwater directed off roofs and buildings to be used at a later time. A rain cistern or tank is much like a rain barrel only it is larger, can be above or below ground, and water from a cistern may be used outdoors for irrigating as well as for indoor use if it is properly constructed with the appropriate treatment and plumbing. Most cistern owners use the water for non-potable applications like irrigation and toilet flushing, as there are additional treatment costs to ensure the water meets drinking water standards. Cisterns for rainwater collection are in use in many areas in BC including Gabriola Island and in the Yellow Point area.

How can I submit my application?

All documentation, forms, photos, and invoices, can be sent electronically to watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca (watersmart[at]rdn[dot]bc[dot]ca) or by mail/in person to Drinking Water & Watershed Protection, Regional District of Nanaimo, 6300 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 6N2.

Will the rebate be available all year?

The rebate is available on a first come, first served basis until funds are exhausted. To ensure you don't miss out, apply early.

Why does the RDN have a Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Program?

As the population of the Regional District of Nanaimo continues to grow, reducing demand on water resources and water systems will become increasingly important.

Rainwater harvesting reduces stress on local aquifers and rivers, leaving more water available for communities, and environmental needs. By reducing extraction from aquifers and rivers in dry summer months, we help ensure that there is sufficient water left to maintain critical base flow in streams in order to protect fish and aquatic health. Reducing groundwater extractions can also help reduce salt water intrusion in coastal areas, as excessive pumping of wells along the coast can pull salt water from the ocean into groundwater.

The Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Action Plan identifies the need to promote rainwater harvesting under Program 5C. The RDN Innovative Options and Opportunities for Sustainable Water Use study, evaluates different options for incentive programs and prioritizes them based on their ranking on fifteen criteria. Four of the top five recommended incentives support the use of cisterns for the collection of rainwater.

Prioritized Applications:

  • neighbourhood cisterns/stormwater (rainwater) detention and centralized reuse 
  • water-saving toilets, showers, laundry, dishwasher 
  • cisterns for toilets and laundry 
  • neighbourhood cisterns and centralized irrigation reuse
  • cisterns for outdoor watering

Are other governments doing this?

Many local governments across Canada have implemented incentive programs offering rebates on rainwater collection devices. Several local governments provide incentives for the use of rain barrels. There is a great interest by Canadian municipalities in the area of rain harvesting and several other local governments including Comox Valley Regional District and the City of Guelph provide rebates of $150 to $2,000 for purchase and installation of cisterns or full RWH systems.

Why is the incentive program available region wide?

All RDN residents - in the electoral areas and municipalities - pay into the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection service and have equal access to the rebate funds available under this program. Once an area/municipality reaches 10% of the total program budget we will suspend approvals for all additional applications from that location, in an effort to ensure funds can be most evenly distributed. We will review the program fund allocation in May and if funds are still not spoken for we will re-open the program to any areas that reached their 10% quota.

Do I need a Building Permit to install a Rainwater Harvesting System?

You are required to obtain a Building Permit only if the installation will involve the installation of a new potable water line, the alteration of an existing potable water line, or the alteration of indoor plumbing. If you are unsure whether your project will require a permit, contact the RDN Building and Bylaw Department at 250-390-6530.

What about the Yellow Point Aquifer Development Permit Area requirements for rainwater collection?

In 2011 the Yellow Point Aquifer Protection Development Permit Area was included in the Electoral Area 'A' OCP to help protect and conserve water in the vulnerable Yellow Point aquifer. See section 12.9 of the Official Community Plan here . The development permit area establishes conditions to assess the impact development will have on groundwater and ensure water conservation through rainwater collection. Contact the RDN Planning Department for more information at 250-390-6510.

Why aren't you incenting rain barrels?

Rain barrels are relatively inexpensive and are not large enough to collect a sufficient supply of water for the long dry periods that generally exist between summer rain events in the Regional District of Nanaimo.

However, the City of Parksville has a rebate program for rain barrels purchased after January 1, 2016 to assist small property owners in collecting rainwater. If you live in the City of Parksville, please see their Rain Barrel Rebate Program.

What can 4,546 litres (1,000 imperial gallons) of storage do for me?

Please contact your local rainwater harvesting consultant or contractor to determine which size of system will best suit your needs. An online calculator can give you an estimate how much rainwater you can collect with a 1,000 imperial gallon tank off of your roof area. Calculations are also available in a table within the RDN Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook .

Do I have to purchase and install a single 4,546 litre (1,000 imperial gallon) cistern to be eligible for the rebate?

Rainwater harvesting systems range in design and can be customized to suit your needs. As long as the total added storage capacity of your system is at least 4,546 litres (1,000 imperial gallons), you may be eligible for the rebate. For example, installing two 500 imperial gallon cisterns would qualify. Rainwater collection systems of this size or greater reduce the stress on our valuable water resources and meet the scale and intention of the rebate

Where do I purchase rainwater harvesting system components?

There are several local consultants, suppliers and installers, including:




  • ForWard Plumbing & Gas (Mid Island)
  • RainDropHarvesting (Nanaimo, Lantzville, Mid Island)
  • Giesbrecht Contracting 250-713-9707 (Gulf Islands)
  • Living Springs Water Company 250-247-0203 (Gabriola)
  • Peter Jordison Rainwater Collection Systems and Plumbing 250-668-5833 / peterjordison [at] gmail.com (Vancouver Island and Gabriola)
  • Summer Rain Water Delivery 250-247-9136 (Gabriola)
  • Aquarian Systems Inc. 250-335-2037 (Mid Island)
  • Coastal Water Systems (Mid Island)
  • Environmental Cistern Cleaning (Gabriola & Vancouver Island)
  • ABC Water Systems (Nanaimo & Mid Island)

If you know of, or own a business that should be on this list, please email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca (watersmart[at]rdn[dot]bc[dot]ca).

The Canadian Association for Rainwater Management (CANARM) is a resource for education and training on Rainwater Harvesting. If interested, please see their website at www.canarm.org.

I bought my cistern and/or installed my system last year; can I apply for a rebate retroactively?

No, to be eligible for the Rainwater Harvesting Incentive Program, receipts must be dated on or after January 1st of the year you apply to the program. So for example, if you're applying for the 2019 program, your receipts must be from 2019. It is highly recommended that interested property owners submit a Pre-approval Application form to confirm their eligibility and the availability of incentive funds prior to purchasing components or starting their installation.

If you have any additional questions, please call 250-390-6560 or email watersmart [at] rdn.bc.ca (watersmart[at]rdn[dot]bc[dot]ca)