The remaining holdouts on a Colorado Senate committee at last suspended their subscriptions to radical water rights dogma, when House Bill 1005 was given clearance for action on the Senate floor, where it swiftly passed. Now the measure heads, finally, unimpeded to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk. It is a welcome resolution to an enduring argument about implausible scenarios fueled by strict water-related ideology. In the end, Coloradans who rely on municipal water supplies will at last be within the law when collecting rainwater for use on their outdoor plants. It should not have been this difficult.
In the 2015 session, lawmakers scuttled a bill that would have allowed rain barrel use, largely due to concerns about upsetting Colorado’s enshrined notion of prior appropriation – the underpinning of water law in the state – which determines that those water rights that were claimed before another’s are senior and therefore cannot be compromised by taking water out of the system. Ostensibly, homeowners who collect rain water in barrels are capturing that which would otherwise flow into rivers and streams, and eventually into the hands of awaiting water-rights holders downstream. The concern, though, is wholly theoretical and not one likely to play out in any operational manner. The silliness was underscored by the fact that those whose water comes from wells are already allowed to collect rainwater – and the state has not dried up as a result.
Nevertheless, water law being what it is in Colorado – namely, incredibly complicated and somewhat arcane – this theoretical concern is sufficient to raise legislators’ and water interests’ collective eyebrows. It need not. While it is perhaps possible that if every residence in metro Denver had a rain barrel, the overall water availability in the region’s streams, rivers and aquifers would drop, that scenario is sufficiently far-fetched as to be irrelevant.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and has long worried that allowing homeowners two 55-gallon rainwater collection vessels would deplete agricultural users and others of their water rights. Nevertheless, Sonnenberg allowed a vote to move HB 1005 to the full chamber. It passed the committee 6-3 – Republicans Ray Scott, Grand Junction, and Randy Baumgartner, Hot Sulphur Springs joined Sonnenberg in opposing the measure – and won the full Senate’s endorsement with a 27-6 vote on Friday. It should have long ago, but the victory is nonetheless significant for wise water use in Colorado.