April 14, 2016--Homeowner rain barrel bill ready for signature (Montrose Press)

Colorado is a signature away from specifically allowing — with a few limitations — homeowners to collect precipitation into rain barrels. House Bill 1005 passed third reading in the Colorado Senate on April 1, permitting “small-capacity rooftop collection.” Under it, people will be able to collect up to 110 gallons of rainfall, in no more than two barrels, from the rooftop of a single-family dwelling, or from multi-family homes of no more than four units. Legislation with similar goals was proposed in the past, but fell to concerns that collecting rainwater negatively affects water rights. “The concern is if you just let people collect the rainwater that used to get to the ground, that potentially injures (water rights),” said Jason Ullmann, assistant division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ Division 4 in Montrose. “If you have lots of them (rain barrels), that would injure water rights.” Ullmann did not express favor or opposition for the bill. In Colorado, water is considered a property that is to be apportioned through the courts and administered by the Division of Water in accordance with appropriation rights. “Whatever the Legislature passes, we are charged with enforcing,” Ullmann said. Presently, people who qualify for an exempt-well permit can receive a permit for collecting rainwater. In order to qualify, the person seeking the permit has to show there is no water system that will provide him or her with water, per Ullmann. “This new bill would have fewer strings attached,” he said. 

Colorado State University’s Urban Water Center found in a 2015 study that allowing 100 gallons of rainwater storage per household won’t decrease surface runoff by a detectable amount on a typical lot. Development on previously undeveloped land has a much greater effect on surface runoff and infiltration than does rainwater storage, per the study’s conclusion. Water being collected into barrels would be put back onto lawns or gardens, seeping into the ground, and infiltrating back into the groundwater, anyway, Ullmann said. “It was generally understood by all parties that (rain barrels) are probably going to have a pretty small effect,” said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer for the Division of Water Resources. It is not specifically illegal to have a rain barrel, but senior water rights have to be satisfied; otherwise, water cannot be diverted and stored by others, and the division engineer has to curtail such diversions when there is a call for senior water rights. This is from where the current legal limitation on storing water in rain barrels comes, Rein said. HB1005 requires the collected precipitation to be used for outdoor purposes, such as watering lawns or gardens. The collected water must be used on the property upon which it was collected. It cannot be used for drinking water or for indoor household purposes. Also, the state engineer can curtail rain barrel usage, if necessary. To view the full article visit the Montrose Press.