Residents in California and other Western states are being encouraged to capture rainfall and use it to water their gardens, relieving municipal supplies and wells from some of the pressure being felt as the region continues to suffer a crippling drought.
When the city of Los Angeles offered 1,000 rain barrels to residents last November, they disappeared in no time.
But not in Colorado. It’s the only state in the country where it remains mostly illegal for homeowners to connect a rain barrel to gutters and downspouts so they can keep lawns and gardens green.
An article in The New York Times reports that the state’s complex water laws strictly regulate who gets what — even when the water falls from the sky.
“Where does it stop?” asked Jason Story, who plans to use a 30-gallon drum to collect rainwater at his Denver home. “Does that mean you own the cloud, too?”
It may not make much sense to those from water-rich states, but Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, from a farming and ranching town in northeast Colorado, likened the use of rain barrels to stealing. A barrel of rainwater might not seem like much, he told The Times, but collectively the diversion of a substantial amount of rainwater would be damaging to those living downstream.
Joe Frank, of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said that the state is typically short of water. “Even in average years, there’s not enough water to go around,” he told the newspaper.
Efforts to revise the law fail
A small number of people were exempted from the rain barrel ban a few years ago, including those who don’t have access to municipal water, but efforts to broaden the exemption to everyone who could get their hands on a rain barrel failed in the state legislature this spring.
The Denver Posts’s website reported in May that the effort to give more people the right to use rain barrels died on the last day of the legislative session.
The bill would have allowed homeowners to collect rainwater from their roofs in two rain barrels as long as certain conditions were met — barrels could have a combined storage capacity of 100 gallons or less, for example, and the water had to be used on the property to irrigate lawns and gardens.
Although the bill rounded up a lot of support, it ultimately failed.
“It’s like growing flowers,” Senator Sonnenberg said at the time. “You can’t go over and pick your neighbors’ flowers just because you’re only picking a few. They’re not your flowers.”
Although the practice may be technically illegal for most state residents, enforcement is said to be lax and scofflaws are in little danger of being fined.
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Natural Resources said he didn’t know of a single instance of a homeowner being fined for having a rain barrel, The Times said. “We simply do not have the ability to monitor rain barrel use,” deputy state engineer Kevin Rein said.