From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):
Put a bucket under your downspout and collect rain running off your roof to water your garden. You’re an outlaw in Colorado.
Critics have lambasted the state for barring this quaint eco-friendly, urban-farming technique, but to rural Coloradans devoted to prior appropriation, the water rule that the first person to take water secures rights to it into the future, rainwater harvesting should be banned.
While this square state is one of 19 governing water with a prior appropriation doctrine, we’re the only one to ban rainwater collection.
James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, doesn’t see harm in the practice. He’s the brains behind Colorado’s state water plan, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s strategy for avoiding a massive water shortage by 2050.
The water plan pushes the state to take a leading role in water usage and conservation, something the anti-rain barrel ban makes a mockery of, as the law’s critics see it. Last year, an attempt to rid the state of the ban was stalled and eventually defeated by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican who said the changing the law would undermine first-come first-serve water rights for farmers and ranchers in his district. Rainwater, as proponents of prior appropriation see it, is included under the first-come-first-serve doctrine. Even urban runoff replenishes streams, rivers and aquifers, they say.
For the second time in two years, lawmakers are trying to undo the ban, saying a rigid interpretation of Colorado water laws shouldn’t get in the way of much needed water conservation. Democratic Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Daneya Esgar of Pueblo took a bill to strike the law to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee Monday for a first hearing.
Danielson and Esgar brought witnesses to the hearing who championed the bill, saying rainwater would be put to good use in the state’s suburbs and cities. Rainwater harvesting would educate Coloradans about water scarcity and conservation, said the bill’s defenders.
Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates said rain barrels would help inform the public about water issues.
“It makes visible what is invisible,” Beckwith said.
Ag committee member Rep. Jon Becker said the new bill’s proponents had not addressed farmers and ranchers’ concerns that allowing rain barrels would undermine prior appropriation and deprive rural communities of much needed water for livestock and crops.
Last fall, Colorado State University’s centers on stormwater and urban water studied the impact of rainwater collection. In an average rainfall, about 8,000 gallons of water fall on a lot with a home, according to the study. A rain barrel would collect roughly 55 gallons. The new bill would allow up to two rain barrels per household. Uncaptured rainfall would evaporate or run off into underground drainage systems, back to rivers and creeks, and to downstream ranchers, farmers and towns.
The CSU study concluded that the impact of collecting rainwater on downstream users would be minimal, according to the presentation made to the committee.
The bill directs those who collect rainwater to use it to water lawns and gardens, and not for drinking.
Currently, most Coloradans who water their lawns use treated drinking water instead of runoff. That makes no sense, said water board head Eklund to the committee.
Farmer Jim Yahn of Sterling, who says he and fellow farmers and ranchers measure every drop of water to make sure they’re not ripped off, didn’t buy Eklund’s arguments.
“We’re not anti-rain barrel,” Yahn told the committee. “We’re against the misuse of the prior appropriation system.”
Yahn pointed out that “wet” years with above-average rainfall are unusual, and he fears he won’t have enough water in the more normal, dry years.
“You either believe in prior appropriation or you let water go” outside of the priority system, Yahn said.
There’s no recourse in the bill for those who say they would lose water from rainwater harvesting. If someone in the priority system wants to argue they have less water because of rain barrels, they’d have to figure out the specific person who took more than their share and seek redress with the state water courts. Doing so would be impossible, Sonnenberg told The Independent.
The bill offers no means for ensuring rain water collectors are accountable to water law, Sonnenberg said Tuesday, and he expects it to be amended to address that issue.
Currently, water courts rule on such issues; however, the process is too costly for the average Coloradan. Sonnenberg said the state water engineer could be given that task of investigating rain water barrel users abusing their rights.
Becker asked the sponsors to consider some way to replace water collected by rain barrel users, an idea that was floated in the interim Water Resource Review Committee last summer. He also asked that the bill be amended to halt rainwater collection when there are calls on the rivers. A call occurs when people with more water rights have less than they are entitled to and take water from those with fewer rights.
Even fellow Republicans didn’t support Becker’s amendment, saying it was unenforceable.
Danielson and Esgar said they worked with water rights holders to create a bill that would honor prior appropriation and still allow rainwater collection. Danielson cited her ag family’s dependence on first-come-first-serve water rights as a reason the bill would not undermine prior appropriation.
Environmentalists cheered as the bill passed, 10-2, with three Republicans backing it. That included Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone, whose constituents have battled flooded basements and fields for the last several years. Next, the House will debate the bill, where it will likely pass.
The big question is whether the bill will be able to clear the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, a Republican-majority committee led by Sonnenberg, who opposed the bill last year.
Sonnenberg told The Independent his support hinges on amendments that reinforce prior appropriation doctrine.
To appease him, Danielson and Esgar secured an amendment to put language supporting first-some-first-serve water rights into the bill’s statement of intent.
Conservation Colorado called the ban on rain barrels antiquated and said the bill would help connect Coloradans to their water use.
The public supports rain barrels, the group said in a statement, so opponents “must move out of the way and recognize that Coloradans want to use rain barrels…”
In cheering the bill’s passage, Esgar noted that people can shovel snow off their sidewalks and put the snow onto their lawns.
If you can do that, she said, “Why can’t you collect rainwater and put it on your garden?”
From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):
Snowmass water customers will decide in May whether to fund an upgrade of their wastewater treatment plant through a mill levy.
The project, which the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District estimates it needs $19.85 million to complete, must be finished by spring 2020 to comply with new standards for water quality set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The water board decided at its meeting Tuesday to ask voters to approve a bond issue for the debt of the project, which it believes will be less of a burden on its customers than a rate increase.
To bring in the almost $20 million needed without the bond issue, the district would have to hike sewer service fees by about 80 percent, said District Manager Kit Hamby. The exact ballot language that will go before voters in May is being recalculated, but as of now, the district estimates that its tax collections would need to increase to $1.68 million annually.
“As a mill levy, voters can write that off on their taxes, but if we increase service fees, they can’t,” Hamby said. “We’d have to look at a different mechanism to fund this … if we don’t get this approved.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Rain barrels would have less impact on water rights than uses such as stock ponds and rural household wells or just shoveling snow off the sidewalk into the grass and planting trees in cities, in Rep. Daneya Esgar’s estimation.
“It does not make a lot of sense to pick and choose water rights,” the Pueblo Democrat told the House agriculture committee Monday. “We have strong data that shows no impact.”
But some agricultural groups are stubbornly insisting that they’ll suffer by a thousand 55-gallon cuts.
“You’re taking a little bit of water. Can you measure it? Maybe not,” said Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling irrigation district and a member of the state Interbasin Compact Committee. “But at some point the ground is saturated and it’s going to run off.”
The bill to legalize two 55-gallon rain barrels per single-family home, HB1005, passed the committee on a 10-2 vote Monday and now heads to the House floor. Water could be stored and used later on gardens or lawns.
The bill is similar to a measure that passed the state House last year, only to be corked in a Senate committee at the end of the session. This year, there are some modifications that clearly state rain barrels will not interfere with the constitutional and legal doctrine of prior appropriation. Two amendments to safeguard water rights were added Monday.
But the committee drowned an amendment proposed by Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, to curtail rain barrels during river calls, a move co-sponsor Jessie Danielson, D-Wheatridge, called “hostile.” The sponsors also have raised an umbrella against attempts to put control of rain barrels in the hands of the state engineer.
The bill as it is got a neutral response from the Division of Water Resources, and conceptual support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“We as a state want our brand to be about water innovation,” CWCB executive director James Eklund told the committee, adding that rain barrels fit well with the public education component of Colorado’s Water Plan.
Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, broke down the impact of rain barrels by the numbers for the committee, based on Colorado State University studies.
A 4,000-square-foot urban lot would receive 45,000 gallons of water from 7 inches of rain during the agricultural growing season. The ground absorbs 2 inches per foot anyway. Typical landscaping on that lot would use 90,000 gallons in the same period. What’s more, the rooftops and sidewalks that are built on that lot increase runoff by a factor of 10.
“The amount stored by a rain barrel would be captured in the soil anyway,” Waskom said.
In areas where they are legal — all other 49 states — only 5-10 percent of households use them.
“If we could show a difference (in the percentage using barrels) we would, but you multiply by zero and get zero,” Waskom said.
Yahn, along with other ag groups, testified that downstream producers in the South Platte watch Denver rain events closely and rely on the surge in the river.
“We’ve been in the rain collection business for more than 100 years. It’s called reservoirs and the water is taken in priority,” Yahn said.
He asked what legal recourse farmers would have under the proposed bill.
Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein later explained it would be difficult to pursue a remedy for rain barrels.
But Rein also confirmed Esgar’s assertion that far more water is taking out of priority already in stock ponds and through household wells on 35-acre lots which can take enough water for three homes, an acre of garden and domestic animals.
Colorado also allows a pilot project at Sterling Ranch in Douglas County to harvest rainwater that would otherwise go to a stream under a 2009 law, Rein said.
Environmental groups support the bill as a way to increase urban awareness about conservation.
“They begin to understand how much water a lawn or garden takes,” said Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates. “It makes visible what is invisible to most people.”
Not all snowflakes are created equal; some have more love to give.
By Jay Adams and Kim Unger
When the snowflakes begin to fall, we’re guessing the last thing on your mind is moisture content. Isn’t all snow created equal? Turns out, there is a big difference between the type of snowflake and how much moisture it will produce — which makes a difference in filling our mountain reservoirs. Check out our infographic to see why juicy flakes are best.
Early detection and response, partnerships across jurisdictions seen as critical measures
The spread of invasive species has been identified as the second-leading cause of extinctions among all plants and animals worldwide — and the problem is getting worse in the era of global trade. Just a few months ago, scientists warned that North American amphibians are at risk from an invasive fungus. White-nose syndrome, which has wiped out millions of bats, may have also spread to the U.S. from Europe.
Federal officials now say they have a plan to try and curb the proliferation of invasive species by focusing on early detection and swift response. The measures are outlined in a report released by the Interior Department: Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response.
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