Rain barrels are back on the agenda for Colorado.
Last year, a few state legislators attempted to pass rules to allow the banned precipitation catchers. They’re going at it again this session.
House Bill 1005 would allow residents who live in houses or small condo complexes to place two 55-gallon barrels on their properties to collect rain water. They would be allowed to use it only for outdoor uses, such as gardening.
Supporters believe the measure would encourage residents to conserve water, and that it would cut down on the demand for tap water. Because water from the hose is filtered at a city or water district’s treatment facility, it’s more expensive for residents and more labor-intensive for cities.
Opponents believe the rules would take water from the overall water system, in which river water is already assigned to water rights owners — farmers, businesses owners — downstream. Essentially, opponents say, it would cheat people out of their guaranteed water.
Water policy can be intimidating for residents who aren’t involved in the water business, said Becky Long, the advocacy director for Conservation Colorado, which supports the bill. It can discourage people from working on conservation. Rain barrel rules aren’t as difficult to figure out.
“It’s really common sense,” she said “It’s a great way to bring people in the door.”
She argued against the idea using rain barrels will steal from downstream users, saying the allowed 110-gallon capture wouldn’t make a difference for a few reasons.
First, a lot of that rain doesn’t make it to the river.
“The reality is we live in a dry climate, and most of that water as it rains is used up by the plants or evaporates quickly,” she said.
Rain that would fall into barrels now just falls through a house’s gutter, she said. Most of the time, that water is going to come out of the pipe, land on a patch of dirt and saturate it. All rain barrels do is allow residents to transfer water from that patch to their tomato plant.
“You’re not changing the fact that it was going to get used,” she said. “You’re changing the timing.”
Greeley doesn’t have an official position on the legislation, but some officials say the benefits would help the city.
“That certainly would help with water efficiency in landscaping,” said Community Development Director Brad Mueller.
In the fall, his department released the Landscape Policy Plan, a guidebook to establishing the programs and regulations needed to reduce outdoor water use.
The Greeley Water and Sewer Department opposed the bill last year, but this year, officials are trying to work with legislators to spruce up the language.
Last year, they had two main objections, said Donna Brosemer. She’s the department’s government and public relations specialist, and she works as a liaison to the Legislature.
Last year, the bill stated water falling on the state isn’t subject to Colorado water law.
“It just defies logic,” she said.
Colorado is one of only two states in the union with rivers flowing out of it but no rivers flowing in. The other is Hawaii. All of Colorado’s rivers are fed by snowpack in the mountains and rain water.
“We came out of 2013 with 17 inches of rain,” she said.
It would be a hard sell to convince someone we didn’t need rain in the river.
The bill is now saying that rain collected in barrels can get an exemption from its role in the Colorado water system. Brosemer called that a “satisfactory solution.”
The second objection still hasn’t been addressed. The bill doesn’t address injury to downstream users.
“It’s very difficult to know how many rain barrels would be in use,” she said.
If a handful of residents use them, it wouldn’t have a noticeable impact. If a whole city does, it would.
“All we’re trying to do right now is figure out language that would allow long-term evaluation,” she said.
Once the law is changed, it won’t be easy to change back. And even if it did change back, enforcing that would be difficult.
“Nobody’s going to go around and collect them,” she said.