Senators want to let residents collect rainwater
February 7, 2008
DENVER – Ever collected rainwater in a bucket to water the garden? There’s a law about that in Colorado and, technically, it says you can’t.A state senator from Denver wants to make an exception and allow homeowners to collect water that drains off up roofs up to 3,000 square feet so ranchers and farmers could use it to water livestock and metro area residents could use it to water their lawn and garden.Democratic Sen. Chris Romer said the bill, set to have its first hearing Thursday, could also be used to fight fires and prevent the need for more dams and reservoirs.”It will be a way to have microstorage all over the state,” said Romer, who would like to install a cistern at the house he’s building in Denver.Colorado’s water law doesn’t specifically talk about buckets or cisterns but the principle of prior appropriation applies. That means water, including whatever falls from the sky and off your roof, must be allowed to flow downstream to those who have a legal right to use it.”When it’s in the sky it’s fine. But as soon it hits the ground, or on the way to the ground, that’s where it kind of changes a little,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.If a lot of people in the Denver area, for example, starting catching and saving the water that fell on their houses, Kemper said it could lower the amount of water flowing in the South Platte River to farmers on the state’s plains and beyond. Since most of the state’s rivers and streams have more water rights than water, often people with newer rights don’t get all the water they’re entitled to as it is, he said.Kemper said he’s never heard of anyone actually getting in trouble for having a bucket and collecting water on a small scale. It would be up to the state engineer, who keeps track of the use of the state’s water, to decide. A message to his office wasn’t immediately returned.There’s also the gray area of directing gutter pipe water toward the tomatoes or collecting extra water in the shower with a bucket.Kemper admits he’s one of the many people who have directed downspouts across the lawn, which apparently doesn’t violate the law since it’s just directing, not stopping, the water. The shower question, which he said came up a lot in the 2002 drought, is more tricky because another water principle comes into play.With few exceptions, water law says you can only use water once and then you have to let it go. So Kemper said some people say it’s OK to leave a bucket in the shower as you wait to regulate the water temperature because that’s like filling it up at the tap. Others think that collecting water while you’re in the shower is wrong because the water has already been used once, to wash, and should go down the drain.And what about if water ends up collecting in your flower box?”At some point it just gets silly,” Kemper said.