Rain barrels illegal in Colorado, but tide may be changing
Every now and then I come across a law that just doesn’t make sense, either from an environmental standpoint or a logical one. For instance, until last year the province of Ontario had a ban on clotheslines in order to ‘preserve the aesthetics of residential areas’. Thankfully this law was overturned several months ago, but similar bans are still in effect in many municipalities across North America.
I came across an equally inane law this past week – the ban on collection of rainwater in the state of Colorado. This law has historical ties, as Colorado long ago developed a system whereby a group of individuals or corporations referred to as ‘downstream water-owners’ had rights to a certain amount of flow from a reservoir, stream, or aquifer. The harvesting of rain by non water-owner Colorado residents is prohibited because it is considered water theft, even when the water is falling on their own property. Basically a rain barrel is depriving a downstream water-owner of the full flow to which they are legally entitled. Kevin Lusk, water supply engineer of Colorado Springs Utilities, explains:
All the water was spoken for here in the Arkansas Basin 100 years ago or more. If the water falls as rain, that’s water that was going to get to the stream system, and somebody already has dibs on it, and if somebody intercepts that, its the same as stealing.
Thankfully this law, which carries with it a $500 fine for an installed residential rain barrel, is rarely enforced. But even if the authorities are looking in the other direction, there would still be a large number of people that are hesitant to install rain barrels for fear of being subject to a fine.
Are rain barrels really that threatening to the delicate water balance of the water cycle in this arid state? A key point is that rain barrels are not a permanent removal of water from the system. Rain barrel owners are not collecting rain water and transporting it out of the watershed for their own personal gain. Barrels are temporary reservoirs where rain water is held before it is used for watering flower beds, gardens, or lawns, after which it will inevitably return to the ground water system.
And what is the alternative to rain barrel use? Colorado residents that do not have a rain barrel will be using water from the municipal water system for landscape maintenance (unless they are on a well). Treated potable water is not necessary for watering lawns and gardens – rain barrels would help to take pressure off of municipal water supplies in a state that suffers from chronic water shortages and increasing demands.
Two new recent pieces of legislation indicate that Colorado may be starting to embrace the rain barrel concept. The laws are restricted to well owners and a number of new residential developments in the state, but they are going to be used to assess the viability of larger-scale rain barrel allowances in the future.
Image: _ES at flickr under a CC License
Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that brings a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers and provide consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.