DENVER - A debate about allowing residents to collect precipitation in barrels may rain down on the Colorado Legislature again next year.
A legislative committee Tuesday approved drafting a bill that would legalize rain barrels. Colorado is the only state where they are illegal.
The Water Resources Review Committee won't officially vote on whether to introduce the measure as a committee until October. If the committee approves the bill, then it would be introduced at the start of the next session in January. There's also the option for a lawmaker to carry the measure separate from the committee, or run a completely separate bill.
While the legislation signals that the issue is far from dried-up, certain caveats in the measure could cause an outcry. For one, the bill would require users to register their barrels with the state. Another provision would require water providers to replace water taken from rooftops.
Rain-barrel supporters worry that the current proposal is burdensome to water providers, and that would result in failing to approve barrel collection. They point out that rain barrels help with conservation, and that 97 percent of water falling on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.
But it may be their best shot after a similar effort drowned during the previous legislative session. That legislation was stalled in committee after concerns from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, over water rights. Had the bill received a floor vote, it likely would have passed thanks to support from Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.
Just when it looked like the bill had a chance to receive a late floor vote in the Senate, sponsors and legislative leaders agreed to let the bill die so that discussions could continue for future compromise legislation. Enter Sonnenberg's current proposal.
"This is more about process," Sonnenberg said Tuesday during the committee hearing. "This is more about honoring the prior appropriations system and saying, 'If we're going to have rain barrels, the right thing to do is to figure out how we replace that water.'"
Under the state's prior appropriations system, water does not belong to someone simply because it falls on a roof. The water is return flow that someone downstream has a right to. Water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
Under Sonnenberg's proposal, Coloradans would be allowed to use up to two containers with a maximum capacity of 55 gallons each. A consumer's residence would need to contain four or fewer residential units.
Rain-barrel supporters say legislation should make it easy.
"Numerous studies have consistently shown that rain barrels have no impact on downstream users," said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. "Any proposals to put additional red tape and bureaucracy on a rain-barrel program disregard these studies and will only serve to dissuade and burden Coloradans."