DENVER – A measure that would allow Coloradans to collect and store rainwater that falls on their roofs has hit a storm and could drown.
Supporters say the bill has been held hostage by the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, who very publicly loathes even the concept of the legislation.
House Bill 1259 has the votes to pass the committee, with Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango acting as the swing vote to push the bill on to the full Senate for consideration. The measure already passed the House in March.
But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has delayed a vote on the bill since April 16. Upset with the aim of the bill, Sonnenberg pushed an amendment that would require rain-barrel users to register with the Office of the State Engineer, which handles water resources.
Critics of the amendment say it would kill the bill by adding an expensive price tag. To which Sonnenberg replied, “Aw-shucks.”
He delayed a vote on the bill while officials analyze cost.
“I don’t think there’s any question that I don’t like it,” said Sonnenberg, who suggested that the issue should first be studied. “If we’re going to bypass that, we should at least know how many rain barrels we have out there, so we can calculate, or have a better understanding, if it has an impact or not.”
Critics of the bill worry that it 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.
But Roberts disagreed, and she has been working with her fellow Republicans every day to find some sort of resolution. If the bill is delayed until Wednesday – when the Legislature adjourns – then the bill will die. Sonnenberg offered no commitment to give the bill a vote before Wednesday.
“What I have heard across the state of Colorado is people want this kind of measure, to sort of pitch in and demonstrate their own awareness of the scarcity of water in Colorado,” Roberts said. “That’s very commendable, and we should be encouraging that behavior.”
Colorado is the only state to prohibit the collection of rainwater.
The bill would 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. It also would set standards, including mandating screens to filter out debris and insects. It’s estimated that with two 55-gallon barrels, residents could capture more than 600 gallons of water each year.
Supporters of the legislation downplayed concerns, pointing out that 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.
“Coloradans don’t understand why rain barrels are illegal,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “The window of time to vote on this bill is closing. ... It’s time to release the rain-barrel bill.”