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Will Rain Barrels Become Legal In Colorado?

Coloradans love nature. We love to look at our staggering Rocky Mountains, majestic plains, and flowing rivers; and we love to be outside working with nature. Northern Colorado’s agriculture history is strong, and the industry is still relevant to our local and state economies. Even though there are more industries in Northern Colorado than agriculture, many people still have home gardens during the summer. Colorado is working on passing legislation that could allow residents to keep rain barrels and collect water. According to Colorado law, it is currently illegal to collect any rainwater because of the state’s concern with the effect it may have on water rights.

Colorado is the only state that makes collecting rainwater illegal. This Colorado law has remained intact because so many other states depend on the water that flows out of Colorado. Rain barrel opponents say that people should not be allowed to collect rainwater because it affects the purpose that drove the state to create the current water laws that were initially created in 1989. The purpose of these laws derives from three elements: environment, mining, and economic.


As a semi-arid climate, Colorado goes through periods of drought in many areas of the state. Just as other states rely on the water from Colorado, the plains and foothills rely on the snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains that fills the streams and rivers that flow through the lands. For this reason, Coloradans regulated the amount of water a resident was able to collect to protect the entire state.


Since the gold rush in the 1850s, Colorado has relied on the tremendous power water holds to gather the precious minerals buried in the rock walls. Hydraulic mining requires massive amounts of water. There came to be battles between miners in regards to water rights. People upstream were harboring the water for their extractions and making it very difficult on those downstream. Essentially, it became a matter of “first come, first serve.”


Colorado’s economic history thrives because of agriculture. The irrigation principles that allow the land to be developed agriculturally would not work if there were no water laws. Essentially, without Colorado’s water laws, the people closest to the stream would be the only people capable of farming in the semi-arid climate. Economic developers recognized that irrigation allows more land to be converted to farmland, and that meant that Colorado could make more money by growing and selling more crops.

There doesn’t seem to be many problems when it is a wet year, but the drought brings upon trouble for many. The drought during the 1880s caused such distraught and violence which later became known as the Water Wars of 1874. At that time, Colorado created Article XVI of the State Constitution which were intact until the new Colorado water laws were written in 1989.

To bring the story back to today, it’ll be interesting to see how the state responds to the proposed laws that will allow residents to collect rainwater. The bill proposed will allow residents to collect two 55-gallon rain barrels for watering the lawn or garden. According to the Denver Post, “Most Republicans in the House sided with Democrats on a voice vote Monday. The measure still has to pass a roll-call tally in the chamber before moving to the Republican-led Senate.”