From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):
Committee chairman Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, tabled the bill after a list of people testified for it, including organizations that supported it a year ago.
Sonnenberg tabled the bill last year and never brought it up for another hearing. This year he pledges that there will be a vote, “even if I vote no.”
Sonnenberg said, first, rain-barrel users needed to recognize Colorado water law’s pecking order of water rights, known as the prior-appropriation system.
Sonnenberg also wants the state engineer’s office to maintain oversight, so that in times of drought rain barrels can be curtailed.
Kevin Rein, the deputy state engineer over water supply and litigation, told Sonnenberg Thursday that regulating rain barrels would be difficult. Beyond checking yards to find the rain barrels, engineers would have to determine if shutting those barrels off would increase water for water rights holders elsewhere.
“It gets more difficult than just checking back yards,” he said.
That gave Sonnenberg pause.
He said that without meaningful enforcement “it would make the farmer pay for that depletion rather than rain barrels. That’s outside the prior-appropriation system, and I haven’t figured out how I’m going to deal with that now.”
Water law experts say rain-barrels are only technically illegal, because proving they injure the water rights of other users is nearly impossible. Nearly all of the water would be absorbed in the ground by the downspout or in the ground in the garden, a Colorado State University analysis indicated.
“We do not think any changes to the water cycle could be accurately quantified or measured,” said Chris Olson, a researcher and program manager at the Colorado Stormwater Center at CSU. “The water is going to be infiltrated or evaporated … The only difference is the timing, a day, maybe two, before the rain barrel is emptied.”
Garin Vorthmann, who represented the Colorado Farm Bureau, testified earlier that the powerful organization supports the legislation now that it includes the House compromises.
“It’s time to find a resolution to this ongoing conversation,” she told the Senate committee.
Danielson expressed disappointment but patience about the Senate logjam.
“I respect Sen. Sonnenberg’s decision to take a close look at this,” she said. “I am hopeful that we, along with rain barrel supporters such as the Farm Bureau, will be able to make rain barrels a reality.”
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
The move drew criticism from supporters, who pointed out that Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango supported the bill last year, and offered the swing vote again this year to advance the legislation out of committee.
The bill also earned overwhelming support in the House this year, where it started.
It marks the second time Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling delayed a vote on rain barrel legislation. He did it last year when the bill moved through his Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. It sat then for nearly a month…
The state’s prior appropriations system grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. A study by Colorado State University found that allowing 110 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount on a typical lot.
On Thursday, Sonnenberg questioned Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein about the Division of Water Resources’ ability to curtail the use of rain barrels based on a determination of injury, as the bill was earlier amended to require.
“It’s an overwhelming chore to go through all the yards in Denver. I think our first cut at that would be we would need to have some rain barrels identified that are resulting in a deprivation of water to the senior water rights downstream, and then we could make that evaluation,” Rein said.
Sonnenberg worried that farmers and ranchers would feel the pinch: “This could very easily go to the next guy, which may be that farmer in Brighton, and have to curtail him.”
Supporters of the bill hoped they would be able to convince Sonnenberg not to delay the bill because of compromises reached along the way. Amendments helped pass the bill in the House 61-3…
Unlikely groups who previously expressed concerns with the legislation have come on board, including Greeley Water and the Colorado Farm Bureau. “It’s time to find a solution in this ongoing conversation,” said Garin Vorthmann, representing the Colorado Farm Bureau.
But Sonnenberg wasn’t convinced, adding: “I want to be done with this … but right now, I’m not comfortable.”
Theresa Conley, a water advocate for Conservation Colorado, said she was “disappointed.”
“Fear is a very motivating thing,” she said. “Until the governor has signed this bill, I’m going to be working on it like it could die tomorrow.”
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):
“There has been a lot of misinformation put out on this bill,” Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said Thursday afternoon. “I’m not comfortable. I’m going to help get an extension and we’re going to lay this over until I can be comfortable, until we can make sure that someone else isn’t paying for someone else’s rain barrel.”
Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat and sponsor of House Bill 1005, said it’s like Groundhog Day (the movie) where the same day keeps being repeated…
“I had fully anticipated that the bill would pass and at least with a super-majority,” Merrifield said. “I’m still confident that we’ll pass a bill. I’d like to do it sooner than later.”
Merrifield said concerns could have been addressed on the floor with amendments.
Sonnenberg said he was thrown by testimony from the state water engineer Thursday and needs time to work out his concerns but he pledged to bring the bill for a vote.
“I’m tired of this,” he said. “I’m tired of this issue. I’m confident they have been very willing to work and talk and have these conversations. I think it’s fixable, I just honestly right now can’t think what that is. I will bring this to a vote even if I vote no. We will have closure on this.”