2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1259 (#RainBarrel) passes final House vote 45 to 20 #coleg

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

The bill allows homeowners to collect up to 110 gallons in rain barrels.

Colorado’s rain-barrel ban is little known and widely flouted, with rain barrels for sale at many home-gardening stores and commonly used by home gardeners.

But the barrels technically violate Colorado water law, which says that people don’t own the water that runs on or through their property. They can use the water, but they can’t keep it.

Colorado’s law banning rain barrels was amended in 2009 to allow use by people with their own wells. But the change didn’t apply to municipal water users.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The measure addresses what some believe to be an antiquated prohibition on collecting and storing rainwater from roofs in Colorado.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, who co-sponsored the bill. “I’m glad to see so much bipartisan support for this common-sense bill.”

The measure was amended to allow individuals to keep rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon rain barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn. The bill started at two rain barrels with a combined storage of 100 gallons, but lawmakers decided to slightly raise the number.

Sponsors pointed out that an estimated 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream system.

But critics say the measure would steal water rights from downstream users. They say water does not belong to someone simply because it fell on a roof. Instead, the water is return flow that someone downstream has a right to, especially if that water is being stored, say critics.

Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio both voted against the measure. Coram said the bill serves as a literal slippery slope, suggesting that what starts as roof collection could end in allowing Coloradans to collect rainwater off their entire property.

“We keep nibbling away on the prior appropriation doctrine, and you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Coram said, referring to the system in Colorado in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.

“I object more to changing the process,” Coram added.

The bill would also set standards for rain barrels, including mandating screens to filter out debris and insects.

Sponsors estimated that with two 55-gallon barrels, residents cold capture more than 600 gallons of water each year.

Environmental groups praised the bill as another step towards conservation.

“While the amount of water saved is modest, having rain barrels in yards around the state will serve as an important tool to increase Coloradans’ knowledge of our limited rainfall and water supply,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “This common-sense step should help people understand the need for smart water conservation policies.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the 1894 hit song “Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me,” the rain barrel is forever lodged in our collective consciousness right between the apple tree and cellar door.

But Colorado has waited 121 years since then for the use of rain barrels to become legal.

On Monday, the state House took the first step toward legal rain collection with the passage of HB1259, which would allow collection of up to 110 gallons in two 55-gallon drums. The bill passed 45-20 and now heads to the state Senate.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” said state Rep. Daneya Esgar, who co-sponsored the legislation. “I’m glad to see so much bipartisan support for this common-sense bill.”

She sponsored the bill after hearing people talk about rainwater collection.

“It makes more sense to collect the water and use it when it’s needed,” Esgar said. “Really, the purpose is to get people to talk about water use and to be conscious of it.”

Colorado’s ban on rain barrels can be traced back to the state constitution and subsequent court cases that prohibit any sort of detention of water upstream from a senior right. It’s the same concept that poses a dilemma when considering flood detention structures.

Has the rain-barrel ban been rigorously enforced?

“Not that I can recall,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “I would say it’s been rarely enforced. If people ask, there is a policy on (the Division of Water Resources) website.”

A 2009 state law (SB80) authorized the use of rain barrels in connection with other water rights. Another 2009 bill (HB1129) authorized pilot projects for rainwater harvesting. So far, the proposed Sterling Ranch development in Douglas County has been the only applicant.

HB1259 would allow any single-family residence or multifamily residences with four or fewer units to collect rainwater. Rainwater could only be used on lawns or in gardens, and would not be allowed as drinking water or for any other indoor uses. Barrels also would be required to have a sealable lid.

Opponents of the bill said it opened the door to other forms of capturing water before it reaches downstream users. Supporters argued that 97 percent of the water on residential lots never makes it into the stream system anyway.

If the rain-barrel law passes, homeowners will have a new source of water for that apple tree, while keeping rain from sliding down the cellar door.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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