Small changes to a big law are taking place in Colorado. In April, Governor Ritter signed SB80, which allows rainwater to be collected from roofs of 3,000 square feet or smaller. This takes effect today, July 1. Gardeners across the state have been hoping for a bill like this for quite a while.
But before we roll out the rain barrel and all have a barrel of fun, take note: the only people allowed to capture rain are those whose residences aren’t connected to a municipal water system or a water supplier. City dwellers, suburbanites and rural properties served by water companies are out of luck: you must be well-ready with a well permit to try this.
Water law has always seemed confusing to me, so it comes as no surprise that this new bill lives up to its older cousin in near unintelligibility. Fortunately for us, the Colorado Division of Water Resources saw the legalese and translated it into clear, understandable language by using small words.
From their summary of the new law at water.state.co.us/pubs/pdf/RainWaterBills.pdf, in addition to having a home with a well, your permit for using it must be for domestic purposes. In many cases the permit outlines what you can use your water for; if you have restrictions on your well, you have to abide by those when using your rain harvest.
Thus, if you have a household-use only well, you can only use rainwater for “drinking and sanitary uses” within the home, according to the summary. Flushing toilets is in but greenhouse irrigation is out, and don’t even think about creating a decorative water feature with it. If you choose to drink, check with your local health department for tips on cleaning the water before consuming it.
You don’t actually need a well to do this; as long as you are approved for a well permit you can get your water from the sky. But only roof runoff can be collected, not water from puddles, pails in the yard, or drainage ditches. Hanging buckets in storm sewers is still a no-no. And whoever is collecting has to be the person whose name is on the permit for the well, so gathering rain from your neighbor’s roof while they’re on vacation is off-limits.
In good government fashion, if you meet all of the basic requirements and want to commence capturing, you have to apply for a collecting permit to go with the permit you already have for your well. In your application you’ll have to outline in detail how you plan to go about gathering your raindrops.
Surely there’s an engineer with a funnybone out there who’s up to designing a Mouse Trap style series of gutters, pulleys, kicking shoes and bowling balls to do the job. It seems a fair exchange for the hill of rules you have to climb for fetching a pail of water.
If you want to collect, the Colorado Division of Water Resources are accepting applications; for details go to water.state.co.us.