August 10, 2016--Law lets Coloradans collect, use rainwater (Grand Junction Sentinel)

Vicki Felmlee is happy that the law has finally caught up with her. Like a lot of Coloradans, the longtime Grand Junction resident has been breaking the law for years by using rain barrels to collect water from her rooftop. That all changed Wednesday when Colorado became the last state in the nation to legalize them. “I haven’t been known for armed robbery, bribery or graft or anything like that, so I figured, ‘Hey, why not?” Felmlee said. “All kidding aside though, I had a problem in front of my house. I had a rain gutter that had one of those extensions to direct the water a couple feet away. Well, it was a tripping hazard. When I saw a rain barrel and realized I could just direct a hose underneath my walkway, the tripping hazard went away.” Several people in the state had been trying for years to get lawmakers to legalize the use barrels to collect rainwater, but major water user groups from irrigation companies to municipal water utilities continued to oppose the idea. That happened, in part, because of Colorado’s complicated water laws, which view water as not belonging to anyone. Under that law, what people actually own is a water right, and that is based not on the first person the water comes to, but the first person to lay claim to it, even if they are located downstream. It’s a legal term of art that created senior and junior water rights known as “first in time, first in right.”

Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, a water advocacy group that took no side on the new law, said opponents to it are afraid too many people will start using rain barrels. If that happens, they fear it might be at such a substantial rate as to harm downstream users who have more seniority, he said. “For those who were opposed to it, the feeling is that if you had enough people using them, then what they’re doing is increasing the consumptive use because they’re applying it from water that would naturally flow downstream,” Kemper said. “But on balance, we felt that there wasn’t a measurable impact.” To guard against that, the law was made very prescriptive, limiting homeowners to no more than two barrels with a combined capacity of 110 gallons, allowing those barrels to fill and refill an unlimited amount of times, but restricting water capture to what falls on a homeowner’s roof. Additionally, the barrels must have resealable lids, and the water collected can only be used for outdoor use, such as watering plants. To view the full article visit  the Grand Junction Sentinel.