I have a bucket under the downspout on one corner of my house, a five-gallon orange pail that catches rainwater after it rolls off my roof. I use it to water the tomatoes and squash I grow in my backyard, which — by planting and harvesting crops — I have turned into a small eieio. This makes me an eieioer.
Anyway, according to Colorado law, collecting the rainwater from my roof means I'm a criminal. A scofflaw. A hooligan. A crook. An outlaw. A Lionel Rivera. A slippery eel. (Footnote: All of those words and phrases came from a Web site of synonyms for the word criminal. Except, of course, for "hooligan.")
The point here would be that it's illegal for almost all of us in Colorado to collect rainwater. The only other state that bans rainwater collection is Utah, where the law makes an exception for Saturday nights when a man can use a barrel of rainwater to soak and wash his wives.
(I apologize to all Mormons for that tasteless, insensitive joke and offer to discuss it over a beer and a big, fat, stinking cigar. Followed by coffee. Then, on Sunday, a round of golf and more beer.)
Some history: The rainwater collection law dates to the formation of Colorado as a state in the year 1973 and the subsequent naming of its capital for singer John Denver, who in that year came out with the song "Sunshine on My Shoulders," which caused an entire generation of people to wander into the beautiful Colorado mountains, break small sticks off trees and use the sticks to poke out their own eardrums.
No, really, I don't know when the rainwater collection ban started, but it was a long time ago. The law — I'm not kidding about this part — declares that the state of Colorado claims the right to all moisture in the atmosphere that falls within the state's borders and, according to the state constitution, "said moisture is declared to be the property of the people of this state."
By "people" the constitution means "lawyers." Which is like saying "pianos" when you really mean "squirrels."
But July 1 — after a year or more of drafting and re-drafting proposals and endless hours put in by dedicated Colorado lawmakers — a new rainwater collection law went into effect with deep, important ramifications for a group of people I would call, in all seriousness, "almost none of us."
The new law says a landowner can collect rainwater in a barrel if the landowner "uses a well, or is legally entitled to a well, for the water supply, and the well is permitted for domestic uses according to Section 37-92-602, C.R.S., ... and there is no water supply available in the area from a municipality or water district."
In other words, if you have no access to any water and haven't had a drink of water in a month and then it starts to rain, you can, under the new law, drag yourself along the ground until you are under the roofline of your home. Then you can roll onto your back, open your mouth and hope some water runs off the roof and — in legal terms — falls into said mouth.
(Note: According to a recent survey, 99 percent of all Independent readers say they obtain their water not from a well but from a modern metropolitan system, whereas nearly 88 percent of Gazette readers say they have not heard about the wheel.)
So for just about all of us, the new law is meaningless. We still cannot legally allow rainwater or melting snow to run from our roofs into any kind of a bucket.
An exception is the so-called "Doug Bruce Provision" in which tenants who rent from the Colorado Springs landlord, anti-tax measure author and ex-El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker may collect an unlimited amount of rainwater or snowmelt from the roof.
As long as the buckets stay inside the apartment.
Stephens: She's a law-abiding lawmaker
Even state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, didn't know of the obscure rain collection law as she routinely gathered the drops by leaving a bucket in her Monument front yard. When it accumulated a few inches, she says, she would dump it on some flowers or a tree.
And then there was this: "When it really rained hard," she says, "I'd lay the bucket down in the gutter out front. The water would just rush in and I'd fill it."
All that changed two years ago when she was boasting of her water-conservation feats to colleague Frank McNulty, R-Douglas County and also a water-rights attorney.
"He told me what I was doing was illegal," Stephens says. "I said, 'Yeah, right.' I thought he was kidding. Turns out he wasn't."
Has she "stolen" the state's water since?
"No," Stephens says. "I don't want people to think I'm breaking the law."