That’s when a law passed by the Legislature this year took effect, allowing Coloradans to use up to two 55-gallon barrels to catch rain for use on plants and gardens.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill shortly after the Legislature adjourned in May.
Colorado joins every other state in allowing the use of rain barrels.
The bill struggled through two legislative sessions, though it gained enough steam through compromises that allowed it to pass this year.
What held it back was fear that rain barrels would erode the state’s prior appropriations system, which grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
Water officials are allowed to curtail use of barrels if injury to water rights is found. The law also states that using a rain barrel is not a water right, and requires the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state.
Now that the barrels are “free,” Coloradans may have some questions. Conservation Colorado – which led efforts to legalize the barrels – put together answers to common questions:
Where do I get a rain barrel?
You can find all varieties of barrels at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Amazon and other home and garden stores. The cost is $80-$120.
The company BlueBarrel gives recycled barrels a second life and helps you set them up into a rainwater-catchment system. Make sure to grab an online voucher before checking out their stores in Denver, Lafayette and Louisville.
Who can use rain barrels under this new law?
Anyone who lives in a house or townhouse with fewer than four units can use a rain barrel. No permits are necessary. For other narrow exceptions on who can collect rainwater, check out information on the State Engineer’s website, http://water.state.co.us, under the Surface Water tab.
How many rain barrels can I have?
Each household can have up to two rain barrels with 110 gallons of storage capacity. This is enough to help water your vegetable garden, outdoor plants or a small lawn.
What can I use the water for?
Rain barrels can capture rainwater from roof downspouts and the water can be used only for outdoor purposes on the property from which the rainwater was captured. So, it can be used to water outdoor plants, lawns or gardens or to wash your car, as examples. For more very useful facts on Colorado’s new law (including concerns about mosquitoes and water quality), check out these resources from Colorado State University, extension.colostate.edu, and click on water on the Topics tab.
What else do I need to install my rain barrel?
Just a gutter. To make the most of your rain barrel, you may want to create a raised platform for the barrel, such as cinder blocks or a wooden pallet. The higher your platform is, the higher the water pressure coming out of the barrel will be and the easier to get a watering can under the spigot.
Depending on your gutter structure, a flexible gutter extension can be useful, and it may need to be secured with screws and sealed with caulk. Don’t forget to measure your gutter and buy a downspout extension that is the right size.
How do I install a rain barrel?
There’s a nice how-to guide at treepeople.org from Tree People.
And BlueBarrel Systems also has video instructions for its systems at bluebarrelsystems.com. Keep in mind that your barrel needs to be able to seal to keep out mosquitoes.
What do I need to do to maintain my rain barrel?
The Colorado State University extension site has helpful hints on how to keep out impurities and contaminants. Once your rain barrel is installed, maintenance is easy. Simply use the water you’ve collected to water your garden, and make sure the rain barrel is emptied on a regular basis.
What do I do with my rain barrel during the winter?
In Colorado, it’s not a good idea to leave your barrel set up in the winter, as water inside may freeze and damage the system. Around the first frost, pack it up for the winter. Adjust your gutter downspout so the water runs away from your house. Empty your barrel, rinse it and let it dry. Store it in a garage or basement, or turn it upside down and leave it outside, covering it with a tarp if you have one. Make sure the spigot is open and all components are clean. In the spring, put it back in place and start harvesting rainwater again.
Will my rain barrel make a difference?
It may not seem like a lot, but in Colorado, every drop counts. Using two rain barrels to water your plants could save up to 1,200 gallons a year. It’s also a great way to connect to Colorado’s water supply, as using a rain barrel tunes you into the natural water cycles of our region.