DENVER – After two years and a downpour of controversy, Coloradans soon will be allowed to use barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation Thursday that allows Colorado to join every other state in permitting the use of rain barrels to collect water for plants and gardens.
Starting Aug. 10, Coloradans will be allowed to use up to two 55-gallon barrels, which cost about $100 on average.
“They promote education – pay attention to water and how it’s used – and they also promote stewardship,” Hickenlooper said of the barrels, signing the legislation in the backyard of the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver.
While the legislation seemed obvious to many observers, it struggled through the Legislature, failing last year, before picking up steam this year.
What held it back was fears 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.
Several amendments this year helped garner support from factions that ardently fight for water rights, including the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The law allows water officials 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.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, helped push the measure along over the past two years by garnering support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We don’t want to impact anyone’s water rights. We just want to make sure that we aren’t the only state in the union where this was illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, added: “It gives urbanites a more personal and intimate connection with the complicated water system in Colorado.”
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, pointed out that it was remarkable to pass a controversial piece of legislation during a contentious legislative session.
“We keep hearing that there’s this gridlock and that we’re not able to get anything done in a hyper-partisan time,” Danielson said. “This bill is an example of working across the aisle.”