Rain Barrels Now Legal!

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Colorado now joins the rest of the nation in allowing people to use rain barrels on their properties. HB 16-1005 allows residents to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater, a huge win for water conservation. The new law is not expected to have a noticeable effect on downstream users, as studies have shown nearly 100% of rainfall is evaporated off the ground or used up by plants before it could reach them. The bill passed through both the State House and Senate and was officially signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper yesterday.

Pete Maysmith, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado, believes this is an important step in the right direction for the state. He says, “This is a victory for Coloradans who care about their state’s incredible rivers, lakes, streams, and waters. Rain barrels are an important educational tool and a great first step toward conservation and increasing awareness about the water challenges facing Colorado. Water conservation is the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water strategy we have to addressing these challenges.”

Rain barrels are yet another tool to help people connect with their water and foster a culture of conservation in Colorado residents. Water from rain barrels is enough to use for a small garden and may not have a huge effect on overall water usage, but they are invaluable for giving people another reason to think about water, one of the most important issues in our state. As climate change and decreased snowpack continue to change our water outlook here in Colorado, it is more important than ever to give people a reason to connect with their water, see when it is falling (or not), and how much they really use.

Photo of the celebration of the signing of rain barrel legislation with Governor Hickenlooper, Representative Esgar and Representative Danielson.

Photo Credit: Rachel Carillo

Colorado Court Overturns Oil & Gas Ban

Oil and gas boom hit northern Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court overturned two measures which would allow the residents of Longmont and Fort Collins to limit oil and gas drilling, specifically hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in their communities. Both cities had voter passed measures which sought local control over the commercial activities of oil and gas within their boundaries.

The Court’s decisions were specific to the two cities named in the lawsuit and it is unclear how other areas’ attempts to regulate oil and gas, like Boulder County’s temporary moratorium on new oil and gas operations, will be affected.

Longmont passed a ban on fracking with a city charter amendment, Measure 300, in 2012 and Fort Collins’ voters passed a 5 year ban in 2013. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled, “Fort Collin’s five-year moratorium on fracking and the storage of fracking waste operationally conflicts with the effectuation of state law. Accordingly, we hold that the moratorium is preempted by state law and is, therefore, invalid and unenforceable.” The Court used the same language to strike down the Longmont amendment.

Because the issue involves state law, the ruling cannot be appealed at a federal level.

This decision leaves some in communities around Colorado frustrated as oil and gas activities come ever closer to residences and schools, with as little as a 100 feet setback required in some places. These communities question the effect of such operations on health and safety for people and the environment.

Photo Credit: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Environmental Water Rights Protected in Colorado

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In a landmark case decision, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that “instream” water rights are legally protected. The case concerned the San Miguel River, one of Colorado’s few mostly free-flowing river. The court decided that a senior water holder, Farmers Water Development Company, is not affected by the State of Colorado’s instream water rights. Instream water rights, which help keep water in rivers or lakes to protect wildlife and the ecosystem, were confirmed by this ruling as a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife. Having water instream is also of benefit to recreational user of rivers and lakes, an industry in Colorado worth an estimated nine billion dollars and that provides 80,000 jobs.

“We believe this ruling not only protects the distinctive San Miguel, but ensures we have a vital tool to leave a legacy of healthy rivers throughout Colorado,” said Rob Harris, Staff Attorney at Western Resource Advocates and lead defender on the case. “This case will long be remembered for preserving healthy rivers throughout Colorado as a legacy for future generations. Fishermen, boaters, and wildlife need these sorts of instream water right protections to secure water for their needs.”

Instream water right dedicate minimum water flows between specific points to preserve or improve the natural environment. Their protections can be used for fisheries, waterfowl, frogs/salamanders, unique geologic or hydrologic features and habitat for threatened or endangered fish. The rights, which are monitored and enforced, lead to long-term protections of important areas and species.

In the case of the San Miguel, three native fish are threatened and without instream flows, could require the Endangered Species Act for protection. Colorado’s Instream Flow Program allows for a fair, collaborative process on a state as opposed to federal level, where local stakeholders have a say in protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams.

In a state where water rights are central to how we use and distribute water, this ruling ensures that environmental needs will be considered and that humans and wildlife alike can continue to enjoy rivers and lakes in Colorado, just another thing that makes our state a great place to live.

photo credit: iStock photo

Rain Barrels: A Common Sense Approach to Conservation

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RAIN BARRELS: A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO CONSERVATION

Colorado is finally moving toward legalizing the use of rain barrels, a common sense move which will allow residents to use up to two 50-gallon rain barrels of rain water which falls on their property and use it to irrigate their yards. Our state is the only state which currently prohibits this practice.

HB 15-1259, which passed through the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee 8-5, is now being debated in the State House. Prohibiting the collection of rainwater is part of Colorado’s 19th century water rights system, which claims that water cannot be collected on a residential property because it already belongs to someone downstream. Not only is this system outdated in today’s modern times, the argument that these senior water users are harmed by rainwater harvesting probably has little merit. Studies in Colorado have shown that on average, only 3 percent of rainwater eventually makes it to waterways and aquifers. In wet years the number has risen to 15 percent, but in dry years, no rainwater contributes to surface and groundwaters.

Diverse groups from both the conservation and utility world support this legislation, from Conservation Colorado and Ute Water to Western Resource Advocates and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. They all see allowing rain barrels as a way to connect people with where their water comes from.

According to Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates, “Someone with a rain barrel develops a water cycle awareness and an understanding that water is limited. Ultimately, this transforms into a conservation mindset and an appreciation to not waste this precious resource.”

As currently written, the law would enable people to catch around 600 gallons of water per year, which is enough to water about a dozen tomato plants during the growing season.

Rain barrels are a common sense approach to water conservation, which is becoming increasingly important in the arid state we live in. In the West, more than half of residential water use is directed to irrigate landscaping. This water is diverted from streams or  aquifers, treated to human drinking water standards, pumped through miles of water mains and then used to water lawns and gardens, something which takes a fair amount of energy. It is also expensive for utilities and for users.

Rain barrels are an idea whose time has come. They make sense as a simple and cost-effective way to promote conservation and their effect on downstream users is negligible. We hope to see legal rain barrels in yards soon!

 

Colorado A Leader In Renewable Energy

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Numbers have just been released which once again puts Colorado in the top 10 for renewable energy, ranking number 8 for state usage of wind power and 7th highest for clean energy jobs announced by state in 2014.

Clean energy is a huge driver of the economy here in Colorado, helped by our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), voted in in 2004, which mandates that Colorado’s largest utilities generate 30 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2020.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard recently came under attack in the new Republican-led State Senate with Senate Bill 44, a proposal to cut the RPS down to a mere 15 percent renewable generation by 2020. The bill also would have reduced the standard for rural electricity associations from 20 percent to 15 percent starting in 2020. Fortunately, the bill was killed in the House.

Colorado is a leader in renewable energy and while we have abundant energy resources of all kinds, hopefully we can continue to lead the nation and make top 10 lists for clean energy use.

Oil and Gas Task Force Closes in On Final Recommendations

Gas Drilling Western PoliticsThe Oil and Gas Task Force is working on finalizing recommendations, which will then be considered for legislation, to send to Governor John Hickenlooper by February 27th. The twenty-one member task force has one more meeting on the 24th to conclude work on the proposals.

So far, the task force’s recommendations have been narrowed down from 56 to about 40, with a two-thirds vote needed to include each recommendation in the final proposal.

Proposals for an improved complaint hotlines to the Oil and Gas Commission received unanimous support, as did recommendations for health studies. Recommendations to increase state oversight and response, including increased regulatory staff and more air quality control, were also unanimous or nearly so.

One of the biggest issues that has yet to be resolved is giving more control to local governments over where oil and gas drilling can take place.

“The role of local government is the central issue,” said task force member Jon Goldin-Dubois, president Western Resource Advocates. “If we don’t address that, we will have failed.”

At least 14 of the 21 task force members backed recommendations that would more closely involve communities in decisions on oil and gas siting. Other recommendations that received two-thirds support would require early notifications to local governments of plans for large, multi-well operations and a proposal to allow the integration of oil and gas development into local land-use plans. However, no proposals thus far would allow local communities to reject proposed oil and gas developments in their boundaries.

Other divisive issues include the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, which oil and gas companies reject as infringing upon trade secrets, and compensation by oil and gas to surface owners for damages caused by oil and gas developments.

Pay As You Grow Water Model Gains Popularity in Colorado

14510448-water-faucet-with-dollar-drippingLiving in an arid state, particularly one that has faced drought for over a decade, water is always a concern. Here in Colorado, where our state population is expected to almost double by 2050 to 10 million, how to supply water to a thirsty state is very much an ongoing conversation in water planning. The old philosophy of water planning would seek out new diversions, which are expensive to build and costly to the environment, in order to meet demands. However, a new utility model adopted in places like Aurora and Colorado Springs seeks incentivize conservation and make ends meet for water utilities by adopting a block rate system, which means the price per gallon of water increases dramatically the more water you use.

“We’re looking at a revolution in how water rates are structured,” says Bart Miller, water program director at environmental nonprofit Western Resource Advocates. The new rate system of paying more as you increase water use differs from the traditional model, where utilities get their revenues from an upfront fee to connect to the system and a flat monthly fee. Under the traditional system, the fee remains the same no matter how much water the household or business is using. The new fee structure will encourage people to use less water, while also keeping utilities afloat. 

An example of this new system is the Aurora Water Utility, where they switched to the new block rate model in 2008. Owners of an average-sized home now pay $5.27 per thousand gallons if it uses up to 20,000 gallons, $6 per thousand gallons for up to 40,000 gallons, and $7.50 thereafter. In 2013, the city converted its connection fees over so they are based on each water user’s overall impact as well. 

While the water outlook for this current year is bright thus far, with average or above average snowpack measured, conservation and progressive measure like this new fee system will need to continue to be a part of the conversation about water here in Colorado.

Sources:

Tory, Sarah. “Pay as You Grow.” SimpliCity. Colorado Springs Independent, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.

Folsom, Bill. “Water Outlook off to a Good Start.” KOAA 5. N.p., 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.