Posted by Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County
Ever wondered why there are so few rain barrels for sale in garden centers in Colorado? That’s because there are laws against collecting rainwater here - with some exceptions, which I will get to below.
I believe we are the only state in the Country that doesn’t actively encourage rainwater collecting. This is because the state of Colorado “claims the right to all moisture 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. The right to this water is then based on a system of prior appropriation, and few people have water rights that are senior enough to allow them to divert water by collecting and holding it in rainbarrels or cisterns.
But wait! – I can just hear you protest now – “I heard that there was a bill that was passed that allowed us to collect rainwater! I’ve seen ads that tell me I can!”
I know, I’ve seen those ads, too. Unfortunately, the ad creators didn’t carefully read the bill. Or they were confused. And I will grant that there is much confusion about what is allowed and not allowed. To help clarify, we had Extension Water Resources Specialist Perry Cabot write up some information on the bill (and this has been reviewed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, so you can consider it to be accurate):
Senate Bill 09-080, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor during the 2009 legislative session, allows limited collection and use of precipitation for landowners, under the following circumstances:
1. The property on which the collection takes place is residential property
2. The landowner uses a well, or is legally entitled to a well, for the water supply
3. The landowner has (or is eligible for) a well permitted for uses according to Section 37-92-602 or Section 37-90-105, C.R.S.
4. There is no water supply available in the area from a municipality or water district, and
5. The rainwater is collected only from the roof of a building that is used primarily as residence
6. The water is used only for those uses that are allowed by, and identified on, the well permit
NOTE: Rooftop precipitation collection permits cannot be issued if the water source operates under a system using an augmentation plan. Most importantly, contact your local Division of Water Resources office for more information and detail on eligibility: www.water.state.co.us
So, to further translate what that means:
If you get a water bill, you can’t collect rainwater (see point #4)… I know… bummer.
If you have a well, you can only collect rainwater for the same purposes as is identified on your permit. So if you have a household-use only permit, you can only collect rainwater for indoor uses such as flushing toilets or watering houseplants. More bummer.
If you’re interested in gardening, but don’t have water rights, or want to reduce your water usage, you may want to watch a webinar on no-water gardening for higher elevations: https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/p6gj6jy4fzu/