State lawmakers are once again debating whether to allow Colorado residents to use rain barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs. As Bente Birkeland reports, the bill cleared its first committee at the state capitol on Monday.
Colorado is the only state in the country where it is illegal to capture rainwater for use at a later time.
“This is really straightforward,” said Representative Jessie Danielson (D- Wheat Ridge). She’s one of the main sponsor’s of House bill 1005. It would allow people to collect up to 110 gallons each year. “You could use that water when you see fit for your tomato plants or flower gardens.”
Another goal is to educate people about water and how to conserve it.
“Someone with a rain barrel begins to pay attention to how often it rains,” said Drew Beckwith, with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates. “They begin to understand how much water it takes to water their grass. It makes visible, what is invisible for a lot of people.”
Beckwith testified in support of the bill before the House, Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. Water experts including James Eckland said that educational component is key. Eckland heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and spearheaded Colorado’s first ever-statewide water plan. He said not having rain barrels hurts the state’s brand.
“For Colorado to lead the nation in innovative water management, technology and policy, we need to have a better story to tell than the one we tell now. The bottom line is, we’ve got to move on, beyond this subject.”
Last year a similar bi-partisan measure failed on the final day of the legislative session. Over the summer an interim committee of lawmakers studied the issue and water experts from Colorado State University, modeled the potential impact to downstream users. They found that there would be no impact from rain barrels. But opponents disagree with the findings.
“The reason this model doesn’t show that is because it wasn’t intended to show that,” said Jim Jahn. He’s an engineer and manages the Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs in Northeastern Colorado.
He said it’s inaccurate that rain stored in rain barrels would otherwise be absorbed in a person’s yard. He thinks those rain barrels prevent some water from flowing out of the yard and to other water users.
“Downstream of Denver there’s 200 miles of river. We’re not anti-rain –barrel we’re anti the misuse of the prior-appropriation system.”
Representative Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan) said there’s a reason a lot of members from the agriculture community aren’t behind it.
“Water in my area is not taken lightly. This is serious to the point where we argue all the time amongst ourselves how this works. This is not something I want to be against, that’s for sure,” said Becker.
But at this point Becker said he does have to vote no. Especially after his amendment didn’t make it on the bill. It would have given recourse to people potentially harmed by rain barrels. The measure passed the committee on a 10 to 2 vote. It now heads to the full house floor for further debate. Last year it passed the House but failed in the Senate.