Water from the Sky, Water from the Ground


I grew up in New York State. If a stream ran through my property there, I could pump water out of it.

Not so in Colorado or many other states. Every drop of water out west belongs to someone: As it falls from the sky, as it runs across the land, as it sinks into aquifers. There’s a saying in Colorado that “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.” In Colorado, people still shoot each other over water. The Great American Desert never disappeared and may be coming back with rising temperatures and increased drought.

I had to learn that it’s illegal to have a rain barrel in Colorado – illegal to collect the rain that fell on my roof. Not that county sheriffs spent a lot of time searching for scofflaws – but it was unexpected for many transplant like myself.

But that’s about to change.

Danielson of Wheat Ridge and state Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo sponsored a bill in the Colorado Legislature, House Bill 16-1005 (pdf), that would allow homeowners to collect rain from a residential rooftop. The bill passed the state House with overwhelming bipartisan support on Feb. 29, and passed the state Senate 27-6 on April 1. It’s now waiting for Gov. John Hickenloope to sign it into law.

Homeowners will be limited to 110 gallons of storage capacity, but this represents a change in the state. It represents some compromises – a bad word in some people’s mind these days. But Colorado is not alone:

Record droughts and a host of other water-supply worries have prompted numerous other states [15!] to enact laws that impact the use of rain barrels

Climate change, drought, and population growth is impacting the land we love. This will force us to confront water issues whether we like it or not. I live in southwest New Mexico now, with no irrigated “yard” at all and only container-raised herbs and one or two tomatoes each year. But I still own Colorado water rights, still marvel at how cheap it is to lease water for alfalfa and how expensive it is to buy water for a home.

We have some hard choice to make in the future, some choices about priorities – lawns vs food vs hay vs tradition vs cities vs… I don’t know what. There will be losers and winners, but it’s a topic we must address.

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