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Rain barrel owners no longer have to live in fear of fines in one Western state, thanks to a new state law that will make it legal for home owners to collect and use rainwater.
Under the previous Colorado law, property owners who collected rainwater in a barrel could face a $500 fine. The idea, among its supporters, was that homeowners violate water rights and steal water from farmers and cities by collecting rainwater.
That will change on August 1, when House Bill (HB) 16-1005 goes into effect. The measure, signed by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, allows homeowners to store up to 110 gallons of rainwater in two barrels.
“We’re using perfectly good drinking water for so many reasons that we shouldn’t be,” science teacher Aaron Broderick told Colorado Public Radio (CPR). “So this is one way to repurpose water.”
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(Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s special show on the rainwater ban here.)
Using rainwater to water the lawn and flower beds is a good way to avoid wasting resources in a drought, State Representative Jessie Danielson (D-Wheatridge) said.
Colorado has faced a drought and a water shortage for a numbers of years.
Why Farmers Opposed Legalizing Rain Barrels
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Danielson introduced the rain barrel legalization measure last year, but incredibly it faced stiff opposition from farmers. The Colorado Farm Bureau tried to scuttle the law because of fears it would deprive farmers of water rights, and succeeded in getting it held up in committee.
The bureau was afraid that allowing rain barrels would give property owners water rights they could sell to cities or real estate developers. In many parts of the state, agriculture is nearly impossible because all the water rights were sold to city governments.
The Bureau withdrew its opposition after HB 16-1005 was amended to read: “THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FURTHER DECLARES THAT THE USE OF A RAIN BARREL DOES NOT CONSTITUTE A WATER RIGHT.”
HB-16005 also allows Colorado’s state engineer to track rainwater usage and restrict it if necessary. The law gives local governments the power to restrain rain barrel use for health reasons to comply with zoning.
A 2009 study by the Colorado state engineer found that 97 percent of the rainwater in Douglas County, just south of Denver, is lost to evaporation or vegetation. Between 30 percent and 60 percent of the fresh water in urban areas is used for lawn watering, according to Lakis Poycarpou of Columbia University’s Water Center.
That means many urban areas could avoid water shortages during droughts if every homeowner simply used a rain barrel to get water for lawn and garden irrigation.
Thankfully, Coloradoans can now legally fight drought and cut their water bills with a rain barrel.
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