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Rain-barrel bill drowns in the Senate

Water-rights concerns sink measure

DENVER – A measure that would have allowed Coloradans to collect and store rainwater that falls on their roofs drowned Tuesday after the Senate delayed a vote on the measure, effectively killing it.

The bill died on a rainy night in Denver, after the measure was thrown a life-preserver earlier in the day when the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee passed the bill by a vote of 5-4. That was considered an accomplishment because the bill had been delayed in committee since April 16.

But concerns over water rights seemed to prevail, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – who had worked tirelessly to see the bill cross the finish line – simply couldn’t convince her colleagues to give it a floor vote.

“I hope we will have a vote on it, so I can do more than just indicate that support in committee,” Roberts said earlier in the day.

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, appeared perplexed, pointing out that the bill had widespread support from many constituents in Colorado and had earned the backing of the House. Colorado is the only state in the nation that prohibits rain barrels.

“I thought this would be a simple matter,” Merrifield said, just before his bill died.

Supporters hoped that at the very least, the bill would have been amended to study the issue. But even that suggestion wasn’t enough.

The bill would have allowed people to keep rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon rain barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn. It also would have set standards, including mandating screens to filter out debris and insects. It was estimated that with two 55-gallon barrels, residents could have captured more than 600 gallons of water each year.

Supporters of the effort pointed to a study that indicated that 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.

But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, worried that the measure would have resulted in stealing water rights from downstream users. Critics said water does not belong to someone simply because it falls on a roof. Instead, the water is return flow that someone downstream has a right to, especially if that water is being stored.

Opponents pointed to the “prior appropriation” system in Colorado, in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. They worried that the measure would have taken precious water out of the South Platte River.

“We know there would be an impact,” Sonnenberg said. “We just don’t know how big that impact would be.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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