Andrew Trujillo, a Pine River Garden Club board member, peered into the murky depths of a 50 gallon barrel of captured rainwater at Pine River Library Community Garden in Bayfield June 28.
About two weeks after the rainwater harvesting demonstration barrel arrived, it was almost full.
“I’m actually probably going to use this water to create a worm tea,” Trujillo said, referring to a brew involving worm waste, water, molasses and a fish tank aerator. “It creates this really organic, natural fertilizer.”
The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE) built the garden’s demonstration site as part of a larger educational initiative promoting rainwater collection – an initiative that is the first of its kind in Colorado, said Laurie Dickson, executive director of 4CORE.
4CORE, an environmental nonprofit, worked with Pine River Library Garden Club and Bayfield Primary School in Bayfield and Powerhouse Science Center in Durango to install rainwater harvesting demonstration sites at each location. Residential rainwater collection could save residents a few dollars on their water bills in the process, while decreasing the burden on water-treatment systems and conserving water in an arid landscape.
“After such a drought last year, I think it really brought it to the forefront for people how critical water is in this area and how it makes a lot of sense to scrimp and save every little drop that we can,” said Kami Larson, another Pine River Garden Club board member.
The demonstration sites feature two covered 50-gallon rain barrels connected to the gutter system and a sign that explains how residents can start their own water collection sites. 4CORE and their site partners will be holding educational presentations over the summer and into the fall, Dickson said.
4CORE built the sites with an $11,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The nonprofit has been offering residents resources to collect water since 2017, when they held grant-funded workshops on how to construct rainwater collection systems. Since then, they have helped at least 200 people set up residential systems.
“People who are actively collecting rainwater now are pretty amazed really at how much water they can collect even in a year that’s really dry,” Dickson said.
For example, Colorado’s average annual rainfall is about 14 inches, according to U.S. Climate Data. If 14 inches of rain falls on a 1,000-square-foot roof, a resident could collect over 8,700 gallons of rainwater.
Even if just half an inch fell on the same sized roof, a resident could collect about 300 gallons, according to the Innovative Water Solutions Rainwater Catchment Calculator.
Collecting rainwater wasn’t legal in Colorado until 2016, when former governor and current presidential candidate John Hickenlooper signed HB 1005 into law, allowing for residential rainwater collection.
Collecting water before it entered the stream system was a controversial idea, mainly because of Colorado’s carefully allotted water resources and complicated prior appropriation system, which gives the oldest water rights priority over newer water rights.
However, in 2015 and 2016, legislators considered studies about where rainfall went when it fell on residential rooftops. They found that generally rainfall did not leave the property, said Chris Arend, communications director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
To avoid undermining downstream water rights, the law stipulates that residents collect water only from their rooftops and use it for nonpotable outdoor uses.
HB 1005 gives residents an exception to the prior appropriations system, but the exception doesn’t apply to the three rainwater harvesting demonstration sites.
They collect water from non-residential roofs. The demonstration site managers would have to temporarily stop collecting water whenever the Animas or Los Pinos rivers couldn’t meet their water appropriations.
That’s unlikely for the Durango site since the Animas River has never been called upon. The Los Pinos River has been called in the past, so those sites could be affected later in the season, said Tracy Kosloff, deputy state engineer with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
4CORE and the project managers hope the sites educate the community about the uses of collecting rainwater at home, said Larson and Dickson.
Not only could it save water costs, rainwater collection has the ability to control moisture around the base of the house, and plants thrive on rainwater as opposed to treated water. It also protects river water that becomes polluted as it flows down streets into streams, Dickson said.
At the Pine River Library Community Garden, the demonstration site added another element to an educational and water-efficient garden.
“I love teaching my children to eat healthy and enjoy the garden,” Trujillo said, while his three kids tried almost-ripe cherries and picked basil. “I think the more we can conserve water ... and use techniques that are around to capture and hold that moisture in the soil is really beneficial.”