2015 Colorado legislation: Rainwater catchments bill passes out of House ag committee

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Denver Post (Anna Gauldin):

A bill that would allow residential rainwater collection sailed through a committee hearing Monday, making headway in Colorado’s decades-old water rights battle.

House Bill 1259 passed the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee 8-5 and now advances to the full House.

“We’re simply wanting to allow people to collect the rain that falls off of their rooftops … to put back into the earth,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

The proposal would limit total barrel size to 100 gallons per residence. Proponents say that the average homeowner could collect about 600 gallons of water annually to water their lawns or gardens.

That amount of water could sustain a vegetable garden or a flower bed, according to Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates, who testified for the legislation.

“One of the most important things this bill accomplishes is putting urban and suburban water users in the mind frame of conservation,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge.

Esgar said people already use rain barrels and were shocked to find out it’s illegal. Beckwith said Colorado is the only state to prohibit residential collection of rain.

Colorado’s water rights system — known as “first in time, first in right” — emerged during the mining booms of the 19th century. Using that rhetoric, people argue that collecting rainwater prevents it from reaching rivers, violating the rights of downstream users.

“It’s a violation of the doctrine of prior appropriations,” said Pat Ratliff of the South Metro Water Authority. “It’s not their water (to use). It’s a return flow that somebody downstream has a senior right to.”

From CBS Denver:

Lawmakers are working to change a decades-old law that prohibits Coloradans from collecting rainwater.
It’s currently against the law — in almost all cases — to put a bucket by a downspout and catch the rain because that water is the property of people downstream. But a bill changes water rights, allowing homeowners to store up to 100 gallons of rain at a time.

It’s been illegal to collect rain in Colorado for more than a century. It can be directed by changing gutters or grading, but it can’t be collected.

“Many people I’ve spoken to think I’m joking when I tell them that the collecting of the rain off of your roof is illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

Esgar and Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, say it’s time the law changed. A recent study found 97 percent of rain doesn’t even make it to a stream because it’s absorbed by vegetation or evaporates.
Esgar and Danielson say homeowners ought to be able to collect and use the water where they need it most, as long as they put it back into the ground.

“Water collected through this bill will not even be enough to water the average blue grass lawn in Colorado even once,” Esgar said.

“Anytime that you manipulate that system — any — it affects somebody,” rancher Jim Yahn said.

Yahn says the study looked at only a small natural area in Douglas County, not municipal runoff. He says even a little water makes a big difference.

“There are people waiting in line for that water, and if they don’t get that little influx from a rainfall event, then they don’t get that water that they are going to put on their crops, that they’re going to use to offset their well pumping,” Yahn said.

Supporters insist the bill will result in more water for everyone by encouraging conservation.

“Perhaps when they see how little water 100 gallons really is, they’ll think twice about how much water they’re using when they turn that faucet on and it comes pouring out to water their lawns,” Danielson said.

Under the bill Coloradans can only use the rain collected outside — on flowers for example.

The state is in the middle of a 10-year study of rain harvesting in both urban and rural areas. Opponents say lawmakers should wait until that’s done.

The bill passed committee Monday and is headed to the full House.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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