DENVER – The Colorado House Monday backed a measure that would allow Coloradans to collect and store rainwater that falls on their roofs.
House Bill 1259 passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 45-20.
The measure addresses what some believe to be an antiquated prohibition on collecting and storing rainwater from roofs in Colorado.
“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, who co-sponsored the bill. “I’m glad to see so much bipartisan support for this common-sense bill.”
The measure was amended to allow individuals to keep rain from their roof in up to two 55-gallon rain barrels for use in their garden or on their lawn. The bill started at two rain barrels with a combined storage of 100 gallons, but lawmakers decided to slightly raise the number.
Sponsors pointed out that an estimated 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream system.
But critics say the measure would steal water rights from downstream users. They say water does not belong to someone simply because it fell on a roof. Instead, the water is return flow that someone downstream has a right to, especially if that water is being stored, say critics.
Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio both voted against the measure. Coram said the bill serves as a literal slippery slope, suggesting that what starts as roof collection could end in allowing Coloradans to collect rainwater off their entire property.
“We keep nibbling away on the prior appropriation doctrine, and you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Coram said, referring to the system in Colorado in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. “I object more to changing the process.”
The bill also would set standards for rain barrels, including mandating screens to filter out debris and insects.
Sponsors estimated that with two 55-gallon barrels, residents could capture more than 600 gallons of water each year.
Environmental groups praised the bill as another step towards conservation.
“While the amount of water saved is modest, having rain barrels in yards around the state will serve as an important tool to increase Coloradans’ knowledge of our limited rainfall and water supply,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “This common-sense step should help people understand the need for smart water- conservation policies.”