#COleg: HB 16-1005, Another attempt at approving rain barrels

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Another attempt to legalize rain barrels in Colorado is being made in the state Legislature.

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, are trying to get a measure passed that would allow homeowners to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater in two barrels on their own property. The bill is HB 16-1005.

A nearly identical measure passed the state House last year, but was allowed to die before it reached the Senate floor. It faced opposition from water users who claimed the water would be intercepted before it reached streams and rivers.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” Esgar said. “We think it will be good for all of Colorado.”

This year’s bill is substantially the same as the 2015 version, and allows water collected to be used for nonpotable purposes such as lawn irrigation, landscaping and gardening. It would require the state engineer’s office to post information on its website.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is offering an amendment to the bill which would require the state engineer to develop rules and which would make water providers accountable for replacing the amount of water collected. Sonnenberg led opposition to last year’s bill.

Sponsors are not likely to amend the bill as Sonnenberg is suggesting, however, and instead will look at adding their own amendment that would categorize rainwater collection as part of the doctrine of prior appropriation, Esgar said.

“This is not the camel’s nose under the tent that some have tried to portray,” she said. “We’re just talking about collecting water to put on flowers and gardens.”

A study conducted by the Urban Water Center at Colorado State University-Fort Collins concluded collecting 100 gallons of water from the lot of a typical Denver household had little impact on runoff. In fact, new construction of previously undeveloped land — on which state water law is mute — had a much larger impact on runoff by increasing the amount of water that reaches streams.

Colorado has rarely enforced its prohibition on rain barrels, and has two laws on the books that allow for limited rainwater collection.

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.

From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

Bing-bing! Like any good fighter worth their weight, our legislative effort to legalize rain barrels is back for another round. Round 1 was all about gauging the opponent’s weaknesses and testing out combination punches – of social media with editorials, and big-name supporters with grassroots action. In Round 2, we’ll hone our path to victory and are aiming for a K.O.

Boxing analogies aside, making it legal for Colorado residents to have a rain barrel is up again at the Colorado legislature, this time as House Bill 16-1005. Last year’s attempt was wildly popular with the general public and was editorialized in support by five of the state’s largest newspapers. The people want this bill to pass.

In Colorado, current law assumes that the rain falling on your roof already belongs to someone else further downstream. Yes, you are a scofflaw for putting a bucket under your downspout. It seems totally ridiculous, and it is.

Just like last year’s bill, HB 16-1005, seeks to change our antiquated status quo by allowing residents to use up to two rain barrels for watering their plants, garden, and flowers. Lots of research that I will not get into, demonstrates that this limited amount of rain water capture has no impact on downstream water users. In fact, the whole point of this bill is to get our public more engaged in water issues. Someone with a rain barrel begins to pay attention to how much water it takes to water the lawn; they begin to question where their water really comes from beyond the tap; and this can lead them to develop a conservation ethic towards water resources.

This increased awareness is a good thing, and frankly a must-have if we are going to tackle the difficult water challenges facing our region.

Unfortunately, our collective efforts were thwarted last year via political game playing. Knowing that the bill would pass out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and would have received bi-partisan support in the full Senate, Senator Sonnenberg who chairs the Ag Committee “laid the bill over” for multiple weeks, stalling a committee vote on it until the second to last day of the legislative session. This effectively killed the bill because Senate rules dictate that bills cannot be debated by the full senate and voted upon in the same day.

In this next round, we’re prepared for another stall tactic and are building even greater support for legalizing rain barrels with influential groups across the state. HB 16-1005 is still awaiting its first committee meeting in the House, so stay tuned for updates from WRA. You can follow #rainbarrel and #HB1005 for the latest news.

Leave a Reply