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Rain barrel proposal drizzles down on Colorado Legislature

New legislation attempt would allow Coloradans to collect water from roofs
Colorado lawmakers will again consider allowing residents to collect rain in barrels after similar efforts failed. The state is the only one that prohibits collecting rain water.

DENVER – Another attempt to allow Coloradans to collect rain water that falls on their roofs has started with a drizzle of legislation.

Reps. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, introduced the first piece of legislation on the subject Wednesday, the first day of the new legislative session.

The measure is written similar to legislation last year, which died on the second-to-last day of the session after it never received a Senate floor vote.

“It’s so simple. You’ve got rain that falls on your roof. You want to store it in a barrel to put it, instead of on your lawn or on your sidewalk, on your tomato plants or your flowers,” said Danielson, the daughter of a Weld County farmer. “It’s really straightforward, and it makes a lot of sense.”

The bill would allow people to capture rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn.

Colorado is the only state in the nation that prohibits rain barrels.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, found herself stuck in the middle of the debate last year, working to convince her fellow Republicans, who control the Senate, to give the bill a floor vote, where it would have passed with her support.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, led opposition to the bill, raising concerns over eroding the state’s prior appropriations system, in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.

Sonnenberg suggested requiring rain-barrel users to register their barrels with the state and requiring local water providers to replace water taken from rooftops.

“It was extremely burdensome and regulatory in nature, and I couldn’t support it, but I certainly appreciated him spending some time to think about what would be a path forward from his perspective,” Roberts said of Sonnenberg’s effort. “I don’t want a police state over rain barrels.”

For his part, Sonnenberg said on Friday that he is open to a new discussion this year. He is holding off on introducing his own measure on the subject to see if he can secure a compromise with the bill that has been introduced.

At the top of his list, Sonnenberg would like the Office of the State Engineer, which handles water resources, to study the issue to determine whether there would be an impact to water rights, or if the result would be too minor to merit consideration.

He would also like the legislation to consider impacts to all bodies of water in the state – such as a groundwater basin – instead of just streams.

Proponents feel vindicated after researchers with Colorado State University in September reported that allowing 100 gallons of rainwater storage per household would not decrease surface runoff by any detectable amount on a typical lot.

But Sonnenberg remains skeptical, stating that the study took into account only runoff with or without rain barrels. He said it’s possible that barrels would lead to less runoff.

“The CSU study is flawed,” he said. “CSU ... has lost some credibility for not doing their due diligence with regard to water and bringing us numbers. They did not bring us numbers that add up.”

Sonnenberg has, however, backed off on the registration requirement, stating that the proposal was just a starting point.

“All I need is someone responsible and a solid legislative declaration, and I think I can convince my other folks in the water community that do not like this, that absolutely hate this, that this is a good compromise,” he said.

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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