On Thursday May 12, Western Resource Advocates joined Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, our colleagues at Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, the Colorado Farm Bureau and many others to celebrate HB16-1005, legalizing the use of rain barrels, becoming law. There was a party, there were speeches, there were toasts in celebration – and several rain barrels were autographed by the Governor. I was quoted as saying, “On this sunny day, I’m dancing in the rain!”
But I know a number of my friends and colleagues scratched their heads at this news. I have heard some say that rain barrels and this legislative win were not very important. I want to tell you why I disagree.
First, our opportunities to win legislative victories, in any state, on any issue, are too few and too far between. Getting legislation passed, of any kind, in our divided Western state legislatures is tough to say the least. Getting leaders to work across the aisle and achieve victories for both parties is a very difficult task. But this win was achieved in Colorado to gain final passage of rain barrel legalization after two years of effort.
Second, don’t underestimate the power of symbolism. Rain barrels became a tangible symbol of work to fix a state law that was contrary to our desired water future. Everyone wondered why rain barrels were illegal in Colorado – and when they learned that it was because there are water interests who feared this would begin to unravel water laws from the 1800s, it became clear this was a battle over more than just rain barrels. This was a battle to get vested water holders to open up and consider new ways of doing business that help us advance water conservation. These interests are powerful and can be suspicious of change, and they successfully killed the bill last year. Passing the bill this year is a signal that Coloradans representing a variety of interests are committed to finding new, innovative strategies to manage our water resources.
Third, Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado created a campaign that garnered interest from the press, brought attention to the issue, engaged citizens, and focused policy makers on an issue that, until two years ago, they hadn’t even considered. This was a well-organized campaign that took hundreds of hours of time educating reporters, editors, citizens and legislators. There were videos, tweets, blogs, and action alerts. This campaign represented what energetic commitment by the conservation community can achieve in the face of opposition.
Finally, legalizing rain barrels illustrates that we can create our own future and be the catalyst for change. Theresa Conley, Water Advocate at Conservation Colorado, relayed to me a story of a conversation two years ago where Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado were dreaming up what we could possibly do to advance wiser water management in Colorado in a divided legislature. During that conversation, our own Drew Beckwith said, “What about rain barrels?” There are not many people out there who can claim an idea that becomes a concept, a plan, legislation, and then a law.
I am so proud of our team, led by Drew, Bart Miller, and Maren McLaughlin-Klotz, who created amazing educational opportunities, captured people’s imagination, and changed a bad state law. I am grateful to State Representatives Daneya Esgar and Jessie Danielson and State Senator Michael Merrifield for leading on this issue. The Governor has once again shown he is a water leader and his support made the moment of “Now it’s Law” possible. I am also so proud of you and all our donors and supporters who participated in this effort and made this possible.
We all should be very proud of our work together to legalize rain barrels. I certainly am. And we will and should rightfully claim this victory with our partners at Conservation Colorado, in particular the great work of Theresa Conley, Becky Long, and Kristin Green. Yes, there is much more work needed to conserve water, advance water reuse, and to further agricultural-urban water sharing — but this victory shows what we can do when we are committed and strategic, and when we work together to advance our vision for the future. Onward to implementing the Colorado Water Plan!