U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- Ever collected rainwater in a bucket to water the garden? There's a law about that in Colorado and, technically, it says you can't.
A state senator from Denver wants to allow homeowners to collect water that drains off up roofs up to 3,000 square feet so ranchers and farmers could use it to water livestock and metro area residents could use it to water their lawns and gardens.
Democratic Sen. Chris Romer said the bill could also be used to fight fires and eliminate the need for more dams and reservoirs by providing "microstorage" of water across the state. However, water interests, including Denver Water, are concerned about the proposal, and Romer asked members of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee for another week to make some changes before voting on the bill.
"We shouldn't let 100 years of tradition and law avoid the common sense solution," said Romer, who wants to install a cistern at the house he's building in Denver.
Colorado's water law doesn't specifically talk about buckets or cisterns, but the principle of prior appropriation applies. That means water, including whatever falls from the sky and off your roof, must be allowed to flow downstream to those who have a legal right to use it.
"When it's in the sky it's fine. But as soon it hits the ground, or on the way to the ground, that's where it kind of changes a little," said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.
Some of the water, of course, gets soaked up by the ground and never makes it to streams. However, if a lot of people in the Denver area, for example, starting catching and saving water that fell on their homes, Kemper said it could lower the amount of water flowing in the South Platte River to farmers on the state's plains and beyond. Since most of the state's rivers and streams have more water rights than water, often people with newer rights don't get all the water they're entitled to, Kemper said.
Chris Piper, a water resource engineer for Denver Water, said the agency is open to working with Romer since the proposal has the potential to offset the need for expensive, large-scale water projects. The agency has suggested limiting the number of houses in the Denver area that would participate for a set time so the amount of water lost to the streams could be measured. Denver Water would have to make up for any decrease but Romer said he would be willing to pay extra to make up for that use because he would still be using less water from the tap.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said lawmakers could also limit the proposal to sparsely populated areas, where there is no municipal water supply.
Kemper said he's never heard of anyone actually getting in trouble for having a bucket and collecting water. It would be up to the state engineer, who keeps track of the use of the state's water, to decide. A message to his office wasn't immediately returned.
There's also the gray area of directing gutter pipe water toward the tomatoes or collecting extra water in the shower with a bucket.
Kemper admits he's one of many people who direct downspouts across the lawn, which apparently doesn't violate the law since it's just directing, not stopping, the water. The shower question, which he said came up a lot in the 2002 drought, is more tricky because another water principle comes into play.
With few exceptions, water law says you can only use water once and then you have to let it go. So Kemper said some people say it's OK to leave a bucket in the shower as you wait to regulate the water temperature because that's like filling it up at the tap. Others think that collecting water while you're in the shower is wrong because the water has already been used once, to wash, and should go down the drain.
And what about water that ends up collecting in your flower box?
"At some point it just gets silly," Kemper said.
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