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Commentary and Analysis Regarding Colorado Law

Water Butts

Eve CanfieldAccording to http://www.treehugger.com, the UK calls rain barrels “water butts”. I was suspicious, but when I “Googled” water butts, a whole list of sites for rain barrels came up, so yes, rain barrels are really called water butts in the UK. The reason for this article is that until recently, rain barrels were illegal in Colorado. In Wisconsin where I grew up, my grandmother had rain barrels and used the water for flower boxes and also to wash her hair. She said it made her hair soft and slowed down the process of going gray. As I remember her now, she could have been right.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources website tells us that the State of Colorado claims the right to all rain that falls within the state. That is why rain barrels were illegal in Colorado until August 10, 2016. Practically speaking, there was concern that the collection of rain water would have an adverse effect on owners of senior water rights by taking too much water out of the natural water cycle. In 2009, there was Senate Bill 09-080, which allowed the use of rain barrels in limited circumstances, but it wasn’t until this year that the use of rain barrels or “rooftop precipitation collection” systems were made legal for most of homeowners in Colorado.

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Smoke on the Water: Representing Grow Operations

Lyons Gaddis water lawyers have been asked by several of the firm’s clients to advise them on providing water to marijuana-related businesses cultivating marijuana in “grow operations.”  These matters are complicated by the fact that the cultivation and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Under the aiding and abetting doctrine of criminal law, persons or entities providing water to these businesses could be subject to a federal prosecution.

Lyons Gaddis attorneys Jeff Kahn and Matt Machado recently spoke to state and local bar associations regarding the legal and ethical implications of providing legal representation to water providers in negotiating sales or leases of water for grow operations.  Mr. Kahn’s presentation to the Colorado Bar Association, Water Law Section (available here) covered topics including the lack of clear direction provided by the Cole Memorandum and the Bureau of Reclamation policy regarding the use of reclaimed water for activities prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act.  Matt Machado participated in a panel at the Boulder County Bar Association Bench Bar Retreat, and discussed ethical requirements for lawyers representing marijuana-related businesses.  This is a new area of the law that continues to evolve rapidly.  If you have questions in this area of water law, please contact , Jeff Kahn or Matt Machado.

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Colorado Flood Relief Bill in Congress

Submitted by Jeff Kahn

On November 19th, Longmont’s Sean Cronin testified before the Senate Committee on Finance, Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight’s hearing entitled “Tax Relief after Disaster: How Individuals, Small Businesses, and Communities Recover.”  Mr. Cronin is the Executive Director for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.  (Watch Mr. Cronin’s testimony) He spoke to the challenges faced by farmers and mutual ditch companies as they work to rebuild important water infrastructure damaged by the 2013 flooding and the benefits that would be offered by adoption of the National Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2014., currently under review in the House and Senate. The full text of Mr. Cronin’s testimony is available here.

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Proposed Rule Redefining “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act and New Interpretive Rule for Agricultural Exemption for 404 Permits

Submitted by Matthew Machado

The EPA has proposed a rule that will expand the need for federal permits under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) for discharges or other impacts to waters of the U.S. The activities requiring such permits include discharges of “dredged or fill material” (Section 404 Permits) and permits for point source discharges of pollutants the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPS Permit). Typical examples of activities requiring a 404 permit include replacement of a ditch headgate for a municipally owned ditch or digging in a wetland. Examples of activities requiring a CDPS permit include municipal stormwater discharges, CAFOs, and industrial discharges. Depending on the activity involved, obtaining a permit could take hours or take years and millions of dollars.

I. Proposed Rule Redefining Waters of the U.S.The EPA and the Army Corp of Engineer are currently considering adoption of a Proposed Rule intended to expand and/or clarify (depending on who you talk to) the types of streams and wetlands that are considered to be “waters of the U.S.,” and therefore subject to the CWA. Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted to the EPA and Corps until October 20, 2014.The proposed rule will expand the definition of waters of the U.S. to lands that have more marginal water attributes, and result in more projects requiring CWA permits. Under the current rule, the term “wetlands” generally includes those areas normally inundated sufficient to support wetlands vegetations, including swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Under the proposed rule, the focus would be less on the degree of inundation and more on the connection to a larger water body that is clearly a water of the U.S. For the most part, unless exempt (see below), tributaries and wetlands in the watershed of a stream or river will definitely be deemed waters of the U.S. Furthermore, land with more marginal water attributes in the watershed not currently considered water of the U.S. (e.g. dry gulches and drainage ditches common in Colorado) could be deemed on a case by case basis water of the U.S based on the connection and other factors (“significant nexus” test).

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Colorado Water Law Legislation Update

Submitted by Jeffrey J. Kahn

Proposed Water Legislation and Ballot Initiative

Legislation:  The 2014 Colorado Legislative Session convened on January 8th and several pending bills appear headed for enactment, including:

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