Water barrels for collecting rainwater will soon be legal

Finally! Thanks to the Colorado Legislature we join the rest of the nation

By Irene Shonle

On April 1, 2016, the Colorado legislature passed a game-changing bill that will allow people (finally) to be able to collect rainwater off their roofs.

You have to understand some background in order to get why this is such a game changer, especially for mountain residents who have wells. First, if a household is supplied by a well, there may not be any outdoor watering rights associated with that well. This applies to most residences where wells were drilled after May 8, 1972 on less than 35 acres. If you’re not sure, look at your well permit; if it says household-use only, all the water must be used inside the house. A domestic well permit allows for watering up to one acre outside the house. Second, until this bill passed, Colorado was the only state in the nation that did not allow for collection of rainwater off the roof. So, people with no outdoor watering rights were out of luck there, too. Now, almost everyone will be able to collect rain to water small gardens, planters, or even to wash their cars! This is amazingly good news.

The bill has not yet been signed by Governor Hickenlooper, but he is expected to do so shortly as he has been supportive of the bill. Once signed into law, the bill will take effect August 10.

Here is the legalese of House Bill 16-1005:

Precipitation from a rooftop may be collected if:

  • You use no more than two rain barrels and collect no more than 110 gallons at any time.
  • The rain is collected from the rooftop of a single family or a multifamily residence with up to four units.
  • The collected rainwater is used for outdoor purposes on the same property from which it was collected (including gardens, planters, lawns – and even car washing).

Note that the State Engineer has the right to curtail rain barrel usage in drought situations pursuant to section 37-92-502 (2) (a).

I’m sure we will be seeing a plethora of rain barrels in garden centers in August – or even sooner.  These have been conspicuously absent until now.

It is surprising how little rain it takes to fill those barrels. A half inch of rain collected from just a 200 sq. ft. section of roof will more than fill a rain barrel, and if your roof is bigger than that (most roof sections are), even less rain will do the job!

Some things to consider for your new rain barrel:

  • Place your barrel on a hard or compacted surface, near the area you intend to water. Raise the barrel so you can get a watering can underneath the spigot at the bottom. Because residents can collect up to 110 gallons and most barrels are 55 gallons, you may want to look into connectors for the barrels, unless you will be collecting from two separate downspouts.
  • Make sure it has a lid to keep out critters, mosquitoes and children. Opaque barrels will reduce algae growth.

Use of rainwater on edible gardens can be tricky. Everything from bird droppings to pollution to leachate from shingles can potentially cause problems. These can be minimized by not collecting the first gallons of water after a dry spell (using a first-flush diverter), and only collecting off asphalt shingle or metal roofs (wood shake shingles can cause problems). Only use food-grade quality rain barrels.

Enjoy using rainwater in your gardens!

Irene Shonle is the Director of the CSU Extension in Gilpin County and their office is located at the Exhibit Barn, 230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422, 303-582-9106, Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research-based information about, horticulture, natural resources, and 4-H youth development. Colorado State University Extension is dedicated to serving all people on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.

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