Colorado Water Catchment

barrelsColorado ‘Water Catchment’ bill allows for rain barrels at  private residences

Janet Perry, Denver. Water rights in Colorado are based upon prior appropriation and senior water rights. Basically, those who have held an approved allocation have the right to that allocation and to not have it impinged upon by a newer allocation further upstream.

The Colorado Water Courts were created with the passage of the Water Right Determination and Administration Act, of 1969. According to drainage patterns, seven water divisions were created and facilitated by a judge, an engineer, a referee, and a water clerk. People who wanted an allocation would then apply for their allotment and those with the oldest allotments have senior water rights. Folks upstream may not impinge upon that prior appropriation. Appropriations are granted based on these water rights.

New legislation passed last month in Colorado will allow homeowners to catch water runoff from their rooftops via gutter downspouts flowing into one or two aboveground barrels with lids. The volume of the barrels must not exceed 110 gallons. That water must be used for outdoor irrigation on the property where it is collected. If not the homeowner, a renter must get approval from the owner.  If multiple unit buildings, there can be no more than four units. The legislation, HB 16-05 will become law on August 10th of this year.

One of the bill’s House sponsors, CO Representative Daneya Esgar, told The Mountain-Ear, “This common sense bill, simply allows Coloradoans the ability to catch some rain that falls on their roof, and use it to water their gardens. This year we worked hard with the Colorado Farm Bureau, agricultural organizations and others who were nervous about the similar bill last year, to be sure this law would not infringe on anyone’s water rights.”

In 2015, Senator Jerry Sonnenberg held the bill, then HB 15-1259, in committee until the session ended, killing it before it could reach the Senate floor. Sonnenberg’s office told The Mountain-Ear that he did so out of concern of ‘injury’ to the senior water rights of those further downstream. Changes to the bill during the 2016 session helped to allay concerns enough to get the bill through committee and to its passage this year.

The State Engineer must report to the Legislature in 2019 about whether the allowance for this collection of rainwater has “caused any discernible injury to downstream water rights”. It was this language that allayed the concerns of Colorado farmers and helped pave the way for the bill’s passage in April.

Rebecca Martinez, Associate Director of Communications for the Colorado Farm Bureau, told The Mountain-Ear that the “Colorado Farm Bureau is supportive of HB16-1005 because of specific protections that have been added to the bill that haven’t been a part of previously proposed legislation. Last year, HB16-1005’s predecessor bill lacked adequate protection of individuals’ water rights. “Over the course of many discussions, we’ve made it clear that this bill must contain language protecting water right owners and it is imperative that this bill recognize the state’s prior appropriation doctrine,” president of Colorado Farm Bureau, Don Shawcroft, said. “As the language currently stands, the state’s water court system is fully considered and will allow the State Engineer to address injuries to other water rights should they occur in the future.”

Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado told The Mountain-Ear, “This bill would help citizens better connect to their outdoor water use by seeing how much water they are using, how much water lawns or plants consume, and how much rain we receive. It also increases folks understanding of our prior appropriation system of water law in terms of why we have it and that it can be a flexible, adaptive water rights system that works.”

Conley further explained, “Colorado faces water challenges (drought, damaged rivers, water security), and an informed public is a necessity for any solution to those challenges. Allowing residential use of rain barrels will build a conservation ethic in the populace, foster a deeper connection to water in the state, and will not impact other water users.”

Residents of Nederland could especially reap the benefits of the bill’s aim at water conservation, as the incorporation of barrels for outdoor irrigation would offset the extremely high cost of water within the town.