UPDATE: Collecting Rainwater in Colorado will be legal beginning on August 10, 2016. Please see our new post regarding the use of Rain Barrels in Colorado, and House Bill 16-1005.
Two new legislative bills were passed in Colorado this summer that seem to be causing some confusion regarding water rights. Senate Bill 09-080 and House Bill 09-1129 allow for the collection of rainwater- but only in very limited circumstances.
Many businesses and homeowners are looking for ways to be more sustainable, to save water, and to conserve resources to help their bottom line. I have been surprised to find that many people are not aware that collecting rainwater- even in a simple “rain barrel” system from your roof for use in watering a garden, is illegal in Colorado.
I think the Colorado Division of Water Resources website summarizes well the historical precedent in layman’s terms: “Colorado water law declares that the state of Colorado claims the right to all moisture in the atmosphere that falls within its borders and that ‘said moisture is declared to be the property of the people of this state, dedicated to their use pursuant’ to the Colorado constitution. As a result, in much of the state, it is illegal to divert rainwater falling on your property expressly for a certain use unless you have a very old water right or during occasional periods when there is a surplus of water in the river system. This is especially true in the urban, suburban, and rural areas along the Front Range. This system of water allocation plays an important role in protecting the owners of senior water rights that are entitled to appropriate the full amount of their decreed water right, particularly when there is not enough to satisfy them and parties whose water right is junior ro them.”
The New Laws
Senate Bill 09-080, which was passed by the general assembly and signed into law by the governor this summer, allows for limited collection and use of precipitation, but ONLY if the following conditions are met:
- The property on which the collection takes place is residential property, and
- The landowner uses a well, or is legally entitled to a well, for the water supply, and
- The well is permitted for domestic uses according to section 37-92-602, C.R.S., and
- There is no water supply available in the area from a municipality or water district, and
- The rainwater is collected only from the roof, and
- The water is used only for those uses that are allowed by, and identified on, the well permit.
ALL of the above criteria must be met. That does not allow anyone who is connected to a municipal water supply (ie. most homeowners) to do this. I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this law. I have a hunch that they set out to create this law to allow the average residential homeowner to collect a limited mount of rainwater, but then in the negotiations the bill was paired down to its current form- and we ended up with a meaningless law that effects only a handful of people.
Regardless, there is a lot of confusion about this law that should be cleared up. Many people I have talked to now believe they are allowed to collect rainwater when in fact they are not. Soon after the law passed, Home Depot even began selling rain barrels in their Front Range stores (and they have over 10 different models to choose from on their website). I have found the reaction of most people when they find out this is illegal is first surprise, and then usually a comment such as “well, I would probably do it anyway”, and “they would never know.”
If you are so inclined to install a rain barrel (do so at your own risk), here is a tutorial I discovered on how to make your own. Another good alternative (and perfectly legal) is to create a bioswale in your landscape.
House Bill 09-1129 has the potential to make a much bigger impact. This law allows for developers to apply for approval to be one of 10 statewide pilot projects that will capture rainwater for use in non-essential use in the subdivision. The Sterling Ranch development, in Douglas County, was one of the early applicants for the program. The developer hopes to save the development’s use of municipal water by 50%. It will be interesting to see the results of these pilot projects, especially for those of us in the planning, design, and engineering community.
This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects. For more information about our business and our services, click here.