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Colorado Rain Barrel Bill Inches Forward, Earns House GOP Support

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Colorado General Assembly
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Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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Colorado is on the road to becoming the final state in the country to legalize rain barrels, after Democrats reached an agreement with several Republicans who opposed previous versions of the measure.

"It is a water right and what you have done with this, you have protected that water right," said Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), who had voted against a rain barrel bill last session.

Now he said he can back it – and other Republicans are also on board with HB 16-1005 [.pdf].

"I've gotten a lot of emails asking for this bill, even though it may seem a trivial issue, it's not to somebody who is very cognizant of Colorado water law," said Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale). "And I would not have voted for it without the amendments."

Rep. Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan) sponsored one of the amendments. It clarifies that having a rain barrel is not a water right. It would also give the state engineer the ability to curtail rain barrel usage.

Another amendment would require the state engineer to write a report to the House and Senate agriculture committees if rain barrels are found to negatively impact downstream water users.

The potential for downstream impact had been a major point of disagreement and the reason why a similar bipartisan rain barrel measure failed on the final day of the 2015 legislative session. Over the summer an interim committee of lawmakers studied the issue, and water experts from Colorado State University modeled the potential impact. They found that rain barrels would not impact downstream users. But opponents who disagreed with those findings said they are pleased new safeguards have been added bill.

"We now have a path for injured parties," said Becker.

Colorado is the only state in the country where it is still illegal to capture rainwater for use at a later time. The measure – which now needs one more vote in the House (Editor's Note: it passed that vote on Mar. 1) before it can move on to the Senate – would allow people a collection capacity of up to 110 gallons from water that falls off their roof. After the measure initially passed the Colorado House, one of the main sponsors of the bill, Rep. Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge) jokingly called out, "free the rain barrel."

"The people out there in our communities, they want this," Danielson said. "They want the ability to use a rain barrel to collect a little water to water their tomato plants. It's pretty straightforward, it's pretty simple."

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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