Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May, and now it’s up to residents to buy and install rain barrels, as long as limitations are followed.
Most single-family homes and townhomes can use rain barrels to collect water, but homeowners can’t have more than two 55-gallon barrels.
Those who live in residences with homeowners associations shouldn’t buy and install rain barrels right away, though. Like the American flag, an HOA can’t ban the barrels, but it can implement requirements about how they’re used, since the barrels fall under an exterior change. Abby Bearden, office manager and architecture review committee manager for Greeley Community Management, LLC, said rain barrels should be approved prior to installment, that way there are no issues or unforeseen problems.
Once approval is given, rain barrels can be purchased in a number of hardware stores or online. Installation is relatively simple, but TreePeople, a Los Angeles company that disseminates information about rain barrels, said the water catching devices should be installed on a raised surface, attached to a gutter. A downspout will be needed to get downpour directly into the barrel. It’s also important to make sure the barrel is secure, in case of harsh weather.
Once the barrels start collecting rain, the water can’t be used for just anything. The new law allows for outside use on the owner’s property, so watering lawns and plants outside is OK, but greenhouses and indoor uses are not allowed.
Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said the barrels should be cleared about once a week during the summer, and should be disconnected during the winter.
It shouldn’t take too many storms before there is plenty of water gathered to use on lawns and gardens, Waskom said.
Waskom said he doesn’t anticipate too many people running out and buying rain barrels, but he said in other states, about 10 percent of the population actually uses them. That figure shouldn’t be enough to hurt water right owners, which is a big reason why the controversial legalization of rain barrels was finally approved.
The way Colorado’s water law works is similar to a first-come, first-serve model. It’s called prior appropriation. The first person to take and use the water for an agricultural, industrial or household reason got the first rights to that water. These are called senior water rights. Those who secured water rights later can use what was remaining after the senior water user took what they were allotted. These are called junior water rights.
There was concern that rain barrels can prevent runoff into the water sources people have rights to, which would hurt the non-senior holders first, but Colorado State University conducted a study that showed rain barrels shouldn’t hurt the water supply.
Not everyone was convinced, like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. He said the bill didn’t do enough to guarantee rain barrel users would be responsible in case their use of rain barrels does hurt in senior water rights holders. He was one of three legislators to vote against the bill.
There is a provision in case there is a loss of water due to rain barrels, though. It was written into the bill that there can be a reexamination of regulation if there wasn’t enough runoff water getting to water sources.
“If everyone were to (buy barrels) there are the checks and balances in there so somebody can go back there and look on a regular basis to see if there is, indeed, an impact,” said Northern Water’s Brain Werner in May.