State official to discuss rainwater collection laws in Steamboat |

State official to discuss rainwater collection laws in Steamboat

Kevin Rein to speak at Talking Green event

— The topic of today's Talking Green event fell out of the sky for organizer Anne Mudgett.

Mudgett is a coordinator for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, which is hosting a discussion about Colorado's rainwater collection laws at 6 p.m. at La Montaña Southwestern and Mexican Restaurant on Village Drive. Happy hour starts at 5 p.m.

Kevin Rein, assistant state engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, will lead today's discussion, which Mudgett said is spurred by two new laws signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009. The laws represent a step toward broader legalization of rainwater collection, a practice that until last year had been largely illegal in Colorado unless someone had a specific, senior right to the water they were scooping from gutters or catching in buckets below a roof.

"I think it was something that all of us had heard just a little bit about, that laws were changing or awareness was growing about rainwater harvesting," Mudgett said. "We thought it was a great opportunity to educate people about what the current rules and regulations are, if anybody is interested in doing it."

The new laws don't allow rainwater collection for most people in Routt County. Rein said Senate Bill 09-80, for example, allows homeowners only with a permitted, domestic well who don't have water available from another source — such as a municipality or water district — to collect rainwater, strictly from their roof and solely for use as defined by their well permit.

The second law, House Bill 09-1129, allows developers of new subdivisions to apply to become one of 10 pilot projects across the state that are allowed to collect rainwater and put it to broad, beneficial use. Rein said one residential subdivision in the southwest Denver metro area has applied for the program.

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Regardless of the new laws, rainwater collection has not been a particularly divisive issue, if discussed at all, in the Yampa Valley.

Local attorney Tom Sharp, who has been active in regional and statewide water issues in a number of capacities since the 1970s, said because the Yampa River and its ancillary streams and creeks are not administered — in other words, because there's not yet a shortage of water — water officials aren't checking to see who has a bathtub in their backyard.

"The issue of rainwater … would only crop up for residential properties in a stream stretch that is highly administered," Sharp said. "We don't really have that occurring because we aren't actively administering streams, except above the town of Yampa … we just haven't had it be a subject of conversation or particular concern."

Ranchers upstream of the town Yampa use headgates that local water officials monitor, Sharp said, but rainwater collection has not been a factor in that monitoring.

"It might (be) eventually, but until you have administration, you don't have anybody yelling and screaming at somebody taking the water," Sharp said. "If the drainage is not being administered, nobody's going to come with a hammer."

Rein said for those who have a domestic well, it could make sense to apply for a state rainwater collection permit.

"There is potentially some value in getting the permit, nonetheless, because as has happened in so many other basins across the state … eventually they do become over-appropriated," he said. "But even if not … you would still want to contact the division office and say that you're going to be basically diverting surface water and want to check to make sure the basin can handle it."

He noted that a rainwater collection permit "is not really a water right or a priority," meaning it doesn't give the holder a set place in line if a water shortage occurs.

But he said the issue is growing across Colorado.

"There are people all across the state that would like to capture rainwater and put it to beneficial use," Rein said.

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