Colorado Legalizes Rainwater Harvesting

Julie Slavet
Jun 29, 2009

While we deal with the issue of having too much stormwater here in Pennsylvania, other parts of the country are struggling with having too little.

Kirk Johnson’s article in today’s New York Times, “It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado,” explains that due to (often antiquated) ownership laws, it is illegal to harvest rainwater in many Western states.

Now, thanks to two new Colorado laws, residents with private wells will be allowed to begin rainwater harvesting, and a pilot program will be installed for larger scale rain-catching.

The article explains the jumble of complicated laws regarding rainwater out West:

Just 75 miles west of here, in Utah, collecting rainwater from the roof is still illegal unless the roof owner also owns water rights on the ground; the same rigid rules, with a few local exceptions, also apply in Washington State. Meanwhile, 20 miles south of here, in New Mexico, rainwater catchment, as the collecting is called, is mandatory for new dwellings in some places like Santa Fe.

And in Arizona, cities like Tucson are pioneering the practices of big-city rain capture. “All you need for a water harvesting system is rain, and a place to put it,” Tucson Water says on its Web site.

Here in Colorado, the old law created a kind of wink-and-nod shadow economy. Rain equipment could be legally sold, but retailers said they knew better than to ask what the buyer intended to do with the product.

“It’s like being able to sell things like smoking paraphernalia even though smoking pot is illegal,” said Laurie E. Dickson, who for years sold barrel-and-hose systems from a shop in downtown Durango.

What a strange situation. Congratulations to Colorado for taking the first steps towards remedying it. They’re off to a good start!

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