From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):
Activities like watering the lawn and thirsty flower beds don’t require treated water from the tap. Until this week, the state technically could have fined Broderick $500 for his system.
The new law, which takes effect in August, allows homeowners to collect as much as 110 gallons of rain in up to two barrels.
The state hasn’t issued fines in recent years. So why even bother changing the law?
Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheatridge says in the face of climate change, drought and a taxed water supply system, rain barrels are an important conservation tool.
“It will tie the consumer to their water usage a lot more closely,” said Danielson.
The bill was first introduced in 2015 but lacked support from the agricultural community and some lawmakers. However, it struck a chord with many homeowners this year. Danielson said as she posted Facebook updates about the bill during the session, those dispatches got more responses than any other posts.
One person was so devoted to the cause they started selling t-shirts.
“They put the words ‘legalize it’ at the top, and instead of it being some marijuana-themed t-shirt it was a picture of a rain barrel,” Danielson said. “This is a fun, important environmental issue that just makes sense to people.”
Drought and water supply concerns have been a catalyst for other state legislatures in Texas, Utah and California to take up rainwater collection.
Some western cities like Los Angeles even offer rebates on equipment.
But in Colorado, where drought is still fresh on many farmers’ minds, getting the bill passed wasn’t easy.
Getting From ‘No’ To ‘Yes’
After the bill was introduced, one of the largest opponents was the Colorado Farm Bureau…
“Rain barrels were kind of looked at as the red-headed step child in a sense,” said Marc Arnusch, a farmer and member of the Colorado Farm Bureau board.
Arnusch said amendments to the 2016 version of the bill guaranteed that rain barrels wouldn’t interfere with farmers’ water rights. The final bill literally says “a rain barrel does not constitute a water right.”
The law will also require the state engineer to track adoption and usage among homeowners. That was a big selling point for Arnusch.
“We need to start preaching heavily about conservation and using water intelligently,” said Arnusch. “And that starts quite frankly in the urban areas of our state.”
Debate and research on rainwater collection stretches back almost a decade in the state. Colorado launched a small-scale study back in 2007. It found that 97 percent of the rainwater in Douglas County is lost to evaporation and vegetation. The study was a catalyst for a 2009 law that gave well owners the right to collect rain water.
In Colorado, the debate may be complicated, but rain barrel owner Aaron Broderick said owning a rain barrel is pretty simple. It takes an afternoon to set up and it can cost under $100. The end result will be a cheaper water bill.
“The thing that’s interesting is that it really isn’t much of an inconvenience,” he said.
The true test will be whether the law causes an inconvenience for water rights holders in the near future. The state engineer’s office is expected to deliver its first report on rain barrels sometime in 2019.
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
After two years and a downpour of controversy, Coloradans soon will be allowed to use barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs…
Starting Aug. 10, Coloradans will be allowed to use up to two 55-gallon barrels, which cost about $100 on average.
“They promote education – pay attention to water and how it’s used – and they also promote stewardship,” Hickenlooper said of the barrels, signing the legislation in the backyard of the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver.
While the legislation seemed obvious to many observers, it struggled through the Legislature, failing last year, before picking up steam this year.
What held it back was fears that rain barrels would erode the state’s prior appropriations system, which grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
Several amendments this year helped garner support from factions that ardently fight for water rights, including the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The law allows water officials to curtail use of barrels if injury to water rights is found. The law also states that using a rain barrel is not a water right, and requires the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, helped push the measure along over the past two years by garnering support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We don’t want to impact anyone’s water rights. We just want to make sure that we aren’t the only state in the union where this was illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, added: “It gives urbanites a more personal and intimate connection with the complicated water system in Colorado.”
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, pointed out that it was remarkable to pass a controversial piece of legislation during a contentious legislative session.
“We keep hearing that there’s this gridlock and that we’re not able to get anything done in a hyper-partisan time,” Danielson said. “This bill is an example of working across the aisle.”
Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this afternoon signed H.B. 1005, a bill legalizing the use of residential rain barrels in Colorado.
Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith and Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois made the following comments:
This is a victory for Coloradans who care about their state’s incredible rivers, lakes, streams, and waters. Rain barrels are an important educational tool and a great first step toward conservation and increasing awareness about the water challenges facing Colorado. Water conservation is the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water strategy we have to addressing these challenges. Moving forward, we are ready to work with the Hickenlooper administration, our legislature, and private citizens to implement more water conservation policies, starting with the statewide water conservation goal outlined in last year’s landmark Colorado Water Plan.
Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado
On this bright sunny day, we are dancing in the rain!! We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and Representatives Esgar and Danielson and Senator Merrifield for their leadership in passing HB 16-1005, legalizing rain barrels. Now Colorado joins other states across the nation in ensuring everyone can use this common-sense tool to help water their gardens. The entire West is facing water challenges with a growing population, limited water supplies, and a changing climate. We need increased water conservation to help meet these challenges. Someone with a rain barrel develops a better awareness of the water cycle, leading to a needed increased water conservation ethic. We look forward to working with state leaders to build on this step and implement our new Colorado Water Plan. This legislation shows what we can do when we all work together.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, Western Resource Advocates
For more photos and a video of the event, please contact Jessica Goad at firstname.lastname@example.org
From CBS Denver:
“We just want to make sure we’re not the only state in the union where this is illegal. I think that’s why it gained so much national attention, even international attention,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat representing Pueblo.
The new law allows residents to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater as long as you put it back in the ground on your property.
“We thought this was just a good Colorado common sense measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat representing Wheat Ridge. “You could take water from the roof, collect it in a barrel and water your tomato plants. Seems straight forward, right? But it wasn’t.”
Danielson’s father is a farmer in Weld County. She said lawmakers initially met resistance from ranchers who worried that allowing people to store water for use when it’s dry would mean less water and runoff downstream.
“We did come to an agreement, one that assures that agriculture and other water users across the state will not have any injury,” said Danielson.
The Colorado Farm Bureau supported the measure. Other supporters say the bill is about conservation and education about the state’s mostprecious natural resource.
“As we move into the implementation of Colorado’s water plan we know that conservation is the cheapest, most effective approach we can do,” said Hickenlooper.
Esgar was one of the first to put the new law into practice, “My wife actually purchased me a rain barrel, although I won’t say it’s been filled yet.”
Sponsors of the bill struck a compromise with farmers and ranchers, adding a provision to the bill that says if there’s any proof rain barrels are hurting downstream users, the state engineer can curtail the usage of them.