Written by Melanie Mandell
Earlier in 2016, Colorado legalized the collection of water in rain barrels in the hopes of remedying the existing water shortage. While allowing families to collect water in two barrels of up to 110 gallons has not completely alleviated the need for water, it certainly has done its part to educate Colorado residents about this issue.
In early November, Theresa Conley, a water advocate from Conservation Colorado, came to Colorado College to educate students and community members about the water problem in Colorado as part of the State of the Rockies lecture series. “The continental divide splits the state in half,” said Conley. “Over 80 percent of the water flows towards the west, but 80 percent of the people live to the east of the divide.” There is clearly a disconnect between supply and demand, which is why water must be transported across the divide to meet the needs of the people.
This disconnect is worsened by the lack of precipitation in Colorado. The state averages 16-17 inches of precipitation (snow included) each year, and many are using their fresh water for purposes that don’t require clean water. “On average, each household uses 50 percent of their water outside of the house,” explained Conley. “Think of all of the in-house uses: dishwashers, showers, washing machines, and so many others, and use outside the home still makes up 50 percent of the total water usage.” People are using fresh water inefficiently. For instance, the use of clean water to help cultivate greenery wastes a lot of fresh water; this is one reason why water barrels become useful.
The use of water barrels allows citizens to collect rainwater and use what is called “grey water” to wash their dogs or cars. The legalization of these barrels has created enough talk about the water shortage to educate people of its prevalence. When people first hear of this law, they usually think, “Well why couldn’t I collect rainwater in the first place?” or, “Why would I want to?” This curiosity encourages people to look into the water problem, and when they eventually begin using the barrels, they are more cautious of their water usage and understand the importance of conservation.
When the law was first proposed, many administrators thought that the legalization of rain barrels would lead to a slow disintegration of the integrity of water laws, or “a death by a thousand cuts,” as Conley said. The specifics of owning and using water is incredibly complicated, but the authors of the rain barrel law assured the administrators that there would be no further change to the water laws other than these barrels.
The legislators in charge of the water barrel law guaranteed a simple, straightforward bill. Only two barrels are allowed per family with a maximum collection of 110 gallons per barrel. Additionally, there is no registration required or any variation within the law across the whole state. After a complex death of the bill due to poorly-timed presentation, the bill was proposed a second time. It won by a landslide with far over half of the House and the Senate in favor, allowing Colorado residents to collect rainwater for reuse.
The water barrels may not have a significant impact, given the magnitude of the shortage of the water in the state of Colorado, but they are giving people the tools for change. The people of Colorado are more educated about water than they were before, and, as a result, they can act more responsibly.
Moreover, as a state particularly dedicated to outdoor recreation, it becomes more important for Coloradans to protect the resources that grant them access to such incredible activities. It seems that the state is definitely becoming more intelligent about its water choices—after being educated, “77 percent of Colorado voters said they would rather use water more wisely than divert water from rural rivers,” said Conley.