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Really, Rain Barrels Illegal?

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Really, Rain Barrels Illegal?

My eco- and money-conscious friends and I have had many discussions about whether you can legally use rain barrels to collect precipitation for watering landscapes in Colorado. Friends that have transplanted from moist regions of the country find it hard to believe that this simple act is against the law. Some have heard that legislation was recently passed to allow rain collection. So, what’s the deal? Are rain barrels illegal?

My eco- and money-conscious friends and I have had many discussions about whether you can legally use rain barrels to collect precipitation for watering landscapes in Colorado. Friends that have transplanted from moist regions of the country find it hard to believe that this simple act is against the law. Some have heard that legislation was recently passed to allow rain collection. So, what’s the deal? Are rain barrels illegal?

Colorado is one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) in which all water flows out of the state. Water has always been very important for our state development but it has also been crucial for states downstream. All water that is in – and eventually flows out of – Colorado is already owned by someone else. Welcome to the overwhelmingly complicated web of water rights in our state.

Every drop of rain that falls from the heavens is already accounted for as soon as it hits my barren front yard. Storm water is owned a few times over by junior and senior water rights holders. Going back to 4th grade science, rain congregates and flows into rivers and creeks via the stormwater infrastructure. It all ends up in our major rivers like the Arkansas, which farmers and cities all the way to the Mississippi depend on. Precipitation can also percolate into the groundwater system that supplies wells that many property owners use for drinking water and irrigation. “Rainwater harvesting,” as it’s called, diverts this water out of the normal system by capturing it in barrels for later use. Not too big of a deal if a few people do it, but if everyone collected rain, the rivers could be altered. Therefore, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, rain collection is illegal.

Colorado State University Extension office wants residents to understand that water rights in Colorado are unique compared to other parts of the country. “The use of water in this state and other western states is governed by what is known as the prior appropriation doctrine. This system of water allocation controls who uses how much water, the types of uses allowed, and when those waters can be used.” Water rights are purchased and many senior rights have existed for a century, so taking this liquid gold from water right owners is like stealing.

As water becomes scarcer and low-water landscaping grows in popularity, rainwater harvesting becomes more attractive and logical. The 2009 Colorado legislative session produced a bill that allows limited rain collection for properties supplied by a well. Even then, residents must apply for a permit to do so. The legislation also allows developers to apply for rainwater collection that will be beneficial, but not essential, to a new subdivision. Only 10 developers were approved for this pilot program.

For some reason, Lowe’s and Home Deport are allowed to sell you a rain barrel, but you can’t use it for collecting rain. This is similar to stores selling marijuana paraphernalia but not asking what you’ll be doing with it. Maybe you’ll be using your new rain barrel for orange juice storage – no one will ask.

Many residents argue that the water they store would later be used for watering plants, which would put it back into the system. And water conservationists note that using less water from the tap to water your veggie garden frees up water used by cities and puts it back in the river.

Where does that leave the average city homeowner collecting rainwater? Still a criminal, I guess.

MyGreenLifeinPueblo.blogspot.com

By Jenny Kedward

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10 Comments
  • yoshi saidit

    If you think about, even the judge that left his bottle out on his back deck from his weekend drunk, has collected rain from Sundays shower. that would be a “criminal” act. Truth is, water is LIFE, you have a god given right to live, our forefathers wrote that we have a right to live. they CANNOT turn a right into a privilege. they CANNOT make you pay or punish you for exorcising your right to live. Not to mention, that water will eventually make it’s way to their corrupt system. so they have no leg to stand on. They make up these unconstitutional laws to steal your freedom. make you THINK you have to buy their chemical infested water, when it falls free (chem free) from the heavens. Don’t buy into their corrupt system. learn your rights, exorcise those rights.

    • Regardless of water rights politics, it is important to note that water DOES NOT fall chemical free from the sky. This is one of the reasons that even farm raised fish contain mercury. Coal fueled power plants (among other things) add chemicals to our atmosphere which are picked up in the rain. States have upped environmental regulations over the past years, but rain is still not a pure, unadulterated source of water.

  • Kimberly Corell

    I think this law is ridiculous. If I am using the collected rain water to water my plants during a dry spell, then I am not using tap water (that has to be potable and treated) to do so. The real issue here, is that they can’t charge me ridiculous rates for the water. I will use the same amount of water as before, they just can’t make any money on it.

    • Bob Ortiz

      THE MONEY IS EXACTLY THE REASON. The powers that be want their cut and they make the rules.

  • Tonia Jarrett Rogers

    Well Then, If My Neighbors Tree Fell Over & Damaged My House, Then My Neighbor Would Be Responsible To Claim It On His Insurance & Fix My House…Same Would Go If A Flood Took Out My House…So Why Would I EVER Need To Buy Flood Insurance In One Of Those States Where The Water Is Already Owned By Someone Other Than Me…See How Stupid That Sounds, Just Like The Stupid Law… Grrr :/

    • ShadyJ

      You should really see a doctor. Your pinkies seem to twitch and hit the shift key at the beginning of every word. Grrr.

      • Samuel Ochieng

        hahahaha!!! That was funny. Grr

  • Karen

    So in Colorado, just buy a rain barrel and turn it into a giant bong. No big deal if you store your bong outside under the eves, right?

  • Quris…

    This law is asinine, but it looks like now it has been changed. In Minnesota, our water rates have greatly increased this past year and I now have water barrel for our garden during our dry spells. No such law in MN…

    BTW: Colorado and Hawaii are not the only states where all water runs out of their respective states. Minnesota is at the apex of three watersheds, where all our water, rain, snow, etc. flows into either the Hudson Bay, the Atlantic, or the Gulf. Anything we do to our water effects half the continent. Which is the reason why our debates have been centered around the storage of radioactive material. Not a good idea to store such toxins in a state where our watersheds cover such a large area…

  • scott gear

    “as water becomes scarcer” – Bingo. Funny thing is if everyone owned a rain barrel, or 4, or more, even if every single one of them leaked out very slowly (which is the ideal way to use a rain barrel, so it’s empty for the next rain), the reduced runoff during each rain would likely not even correct the increased runoff that the impervious roof caused, compared to before the house was there at all. Now combine that with the increased groundwater infiltration (from slow release), and the reduced outdoor water use for irrigation (not as much needed if rain barrel water is directed properly) — and any local water shortage problem could potentially be reversed. Great for us, but not so great for those who are buying up water rights and banking (also funny: banks are betting too) on the shortage, as they will make their money back when selling it back to us at increasing rates. You bet they don’t want us to band together and solve this on our own. That would cut into their bottom line. What would they tell shareholders?

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