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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.

Colorado Revised Statute § 37-96.5-101, et seq, was added to our laws establishing the right of private citizens to have a rain butt. The legislative declaration alludes to the reason rain barrels have not been allowed in the past – that “water is considered the property of the public, is dedicated to the use of the people, is subject to the doctrine of prior appropriation, and must be administered in accordance with the priority system established…” C.R.S. § 37-96.5-101(1). That means that previously, no one could use precipitation for private use without having a legal water right. The new law affirmatively states that the use of a rain barrel “does not constitute a water right.” Id.

There are several restrictions on the use of a rain barrel. It must be located above ground, have a sealable lid, collects water from a downspout of a rooftop, and used for a single-family residence or individual residence that is part of a row of residences with common sidewalls, such as a townhouse or patio home (but with no more than 4 units). C.R.S. 37-96.5-102. You cannot have more than two rain barrels and no more than a combined storage capacity of 110 gallons; rain water must be used for outdoor purposes, such as lawns and gardens and used on the property where the water is collected. C.R.S. 37-96.5-103. You cannot use rain barrel water for drinking or indoor household purposes. Id. (I guess I cannot use it to wash my hair, so I’ll have to go back to the hair salon.) Last, the state engineer has the right to “curtail ran barrel usage,” probably because they are worried that if too many people have rain barrels, there will be too much water removed from the water rights system of prior appropriation. Id. A painted water butt in the UK

Water ButtThe Department of Public Health and Environment “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” is going to develop best practices for use of rain barrels and collected rain water. C.R.S. § 25-1.5-210. That does not seem to be available yet, but there is very good information available from the Colorado State University website about rainwater collection, as well as many other websites. You can buy your own water butt (but you should probably ask for a rain barrel), from Ace Hardware for $84.99 for a 45-gallon barrel, and apparently they are going fast. You can also get them from Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and even from Amazon.com. There is a large range in price and have with some interesting and useful options, such as a stand to set the rain barrel on so you can get a watering can under the spigot at the bottom. There is also something called an “organic mosquito dunk” to prevent mosquitos. I’m all ready to get a rain barrel and, don’t tell anyone, but I’m going to try using it to wash my hair.

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