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Can Colorado escape 19th-century thinking?

By: Jack Flobeck
November 3, 2013 Updated: November 3, 2013 at 10:05 am
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When national magazines continue to feature articles on economical water saving employing new advances in rainwater harvesting, Reuse, Desal, and Debracking; we are baffled that progressive Western states such as Texas, California, and Arizona lead the way to bigger and getter savings, with never a mention of the ski and outdoor mecca of the west, called Colorado.

Could it be that we are shackled by 1880's mining laws, masquerading as public policy panaceas, actually called water law?

The October 2013 Water Quality Products magazine includes a special section on rainwater harvesting, only with a new twist. The piece details some new programs where the emphasis is on commercial rainwater harvesting, collecting water from the roofs of huge factories, warehouses, and computer server data storage buildings; to specifically generate a flow for water purification plants as well as a flow for direct agricultural irrigation.

Partial treatment of water not suitable for domestic drinking, but more than adequate for fracking, drilling, flushing, as well as irrigation applications, surely creates significant economic benefits for all concerned.

Colorado did a smoke and mirror charade on the people when the Legislature passed a "rainwater harvesting" act, limiting the users to one project in Douglas County where, guess what, there is no river basin to be effected for a prior appropriation conflict.

Secondly, the user must be on a well and not connected to a water utility. People all over the state heard about a rainwater bill, and asked me if they could use a water barrel for their roses?

Under that law, I had to say, "of course not!" The same folks were encouraged by a mention of a gray water bill passing the Legislature, but oops, the bill passed, but the legalese precluded action until every county health organization in the state agrees to a yet to be written set of rules.

A statewide county health study committee has been organized to write a report and submit it back to the Legislature . in three years . to pursue the possibilities of gray water to be used to flush toilets, etc. Seems like that three years is magically the exact same amount of time that the statewide water study committee needs to find out and write a plan to see "what to do about the drought."

Rainwater harvesting has been around for many centuries, originating with ancient Egyptians, who used earthen dams to catch rain runoff. The island paradises of the Bahamas are simply volcanic or coral formations, which don't have permanent water sources and must rely solely upon the rain that falls. They trap that rain in cisterns similar to the ones designed by the Romans, centuries ago.

Will it take another 2002 drought experience with severe water rationing, dying trees, and brown lawns; to get the attention of the Colorado Legislature?

Reuse creates is a similar dilemma, in that there are millions of gallons of immediate savings available, but waiting on a three-year study.

Please don't interpret that last statement as an encouragement to overlook or ignore public health considerations; it's just a gentle reminder that if there is a longer, more expensive way to over study a subject, write a longer document, have more discussion meetings; government will surely find a way to do just that. It's all up to you the people, the voters, to write, call, and demand competent review of plans already successful in neighboring states.


Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers can contact him at

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