Out West, a Legal Victory for Rainwater Harvesting

Categories: Green Building
Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 at 11:55 am by dpacheco

You live in an arid climate. Should you be allowed to collect the scant rainwater that falls on your roof? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

But until very recently, it was a crime in Colorado to use a rainwater catchment system to collect the rain or snow that fell on your roof. The state considered that stealing, and penalties were hefty. But the Centennial State (Um, that’s Colorado. Yeah, I had to look it up.) recently passed a law making certain rainwater catchment systems legal, under certain conditions. It seems like a minor victory, but it may signal bigger changes coming to the West as populations continue to rise and demand for water goes up.

From NPR’s Morning Edition:

The West remains one of the fastest growing regions of the country, and that continues to put pressure on scarce water supplies.

So, Colorado recently made it legal for some homeowners to capture and collect the raindrops and snowflakes that fall on their own roofs. That had been considered stealing because the water would flow into a stream or aquifer, where it belonged to someone else; Utah and Washington state have similar bans.

The change in Colorado may seem minor, but this could signal the beginning of a water-law revolution.

Water law in the West is different than in the East. In the West, there’s essentially a long line for water rights; those who signed up for rights first are in front. And in some cases around the West, Native Americans are near the front of the line because they’ve lived there for so long.

For five years, Karl Hanzel “took cuts” in that line because he illegally collected water from the snow that fell on his home outside Boulder, Colo.

“I struggle to understand the argument for these laws. It doesn’t really make sense to me,” says Hanzel. “The water that I’m detaining here, I’m not exporting it to Mars … We have a leach field; we water the garden; that water is still returned to the earth … We’re just holding some of it for awhile.”

Colorado takes this sort of illegal harvesting of precipitation seriously. If caught, Hanzel could have faced fines of up to $500 a day. Luckily for him, a law recently passed legalizes his collection system. It’s a narrow exception to the ban for people who would have to dig a well or have water trucked in.

Read the whole article here.


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