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Did you know that capturing rainwater off your roof for gardening is still illegal in the state of Colorado? It sounds silly, but a few years ago a family in rural San Miguel County sought to collect rainwater from their roof for their garden, because they lacked access to other freshwater resources. The family applied for a right to the water with the state, who denied the family the option to collect rainwater because the water belonged to downstream water right holders. The state told the family that if they continued to collect rainwater from their roof that they would be subject to fines up to $500 per day.
If you live on the east coast, you may wonder why rain barrels are such a divisive issue in Colorado. Like other western states, Colorado water law follows the prior appropriation doctrine, of which the core principle is “first in time, first in right.” To help ensure water supply security, the first person to put water to beneficial use obtains a more senior right to that water. Other water users get in line behind them. In times of shortage the more senior rights holder gets their water before everyone else. As a result of this system, there has been resistance to rainwater capture because many downstream right holders see it as an infringement of their own right to use the water. In other words, every drop of rain in Colorado is spoken for.
Despite these concerns, Colorado remains the last western state (and the country) with a ban on residential rain water collection. Other prior appropriation states including Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming all allow residential rain water collection and even provide homeowners with significant financial incentives to install rainwater harvesting systems. These states support rain barrel use because they offer several benefits. Rain barrels save homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months, which can help homeowners save money. Diverting rainwater also decreases the impact of runoff to streams, which can improve water quality. Rain barrels also serve as an alternative source of supply (albeit on a small scale), which can reduce pressure on existing water sources such as rivers and groundwater. Finally, although rain barrels are a small step, they help generate a conservation ethic within urban water users who may not realize where there water comes from and help residents realize that water is actually a finite resource. That’s important in a region where drought, climate change, and growing urban demands for water are putting significant pressure on existing water supplies. Thus, rain barrels can help connect the public to water and make them more engaged on water issues.
American Rivers is working with Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado on a bill that would allow Colorado residents to install two 50-gallon rain barrels without obtaining a water right. Allowing for small residential systems would have a minimal impact on downstream users. According to research done by American Rivers, an 100 gallon system would only collect 600 gallons of water over the course of a growing season in Colorado; enough water for about a dozen tomato plants or a couple dozen flowers over the course of a growing season. Earlier this week, the bill passed out of the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee with bipartisan support and heads to a House vote where it is expected to pass. American Rivers is excited to be working with state stakeholders to support this measure and increase public engagement on water issues in the West.
In 1969, the Maryland legislature, led by Senator Bill James from Harford County and Senator Jim Clark from Howard County, created Program Open Space. A masterpiece of sensible yet visionary leadership, Program Open Space collects a fraction (1/2 of 1%) of the transfer tax paid when Maryland residents sell a home or piece of property. The money goes into a DEDICATED fund to protect farmland, high-value natural lands, and parks and recreation needs in every county in the state.
The post Land Matters. So do promises: Protect Maryland Open Space Funding appeared first on The Farmland Report.