The insanity of water laws

rain barrel
Don’t be using this in Colorado

In Colorado it is illegal to catch rainwater and snow melt in rain barrels because, by law, the water belongs to whoever owns rights to the waterways.

Rain water should “belong” to wherever it falls. Bizarre, unworkable, arguably lunatic laws like those in Colorado are counter-productive. And the US southwest has far too many water regulations and prohibitions like this. Upstream rights. Got-here-first rights. And of course the ever popular, “we stole it and aren’t giving it back” argument.

Meanwhile, the Colorado River often no longer empties into the ocean because all the water has been diverted. Regional wide planning and uniform laws are needed, not the crazy quilt mess that exists now.


  1. I wonder which is more insane: regulating water in a system with some faults, or treating water as though it’s not a scarce resource at all? Much of that diverted water goes to Southern California. After it’s used, the vast majority of it doesn’t get recycled or recovered like a scarce resource should, nor even returned to the aquifer to preserve the size of the water table– it gets dumped into the ocean.

    I think the Colorado law is a bit absurd. Utah’s laws, though IMO more sensible, still aren’t perfect. But when Las Vegas and Los Angeles are able to steal billions of gallons of water from hundreds of miles away– and then dump it in the sea– there’s something seriuously wrong. Deregulation won’t work with water any more than it works with banking.

    • Regionwide or even nationwide regulation is what’s needed. With one set of laws for all. Not a lunatic patchwork. And absolutely, water should be reclaimed and recycled as much as possible.

  2. You clearly don’t live out West, or if you do, you clearly live in a city where you can consistently turn on your tap and out comes as much clean water as you can drink.

    Spend some time with farmers or read Cadillac Desert and you’ll have a whole new understanding of water out West.

  3. Where we live in Utah, many drainages have been oversold– in other words, if everyone who owned water rights actually used them, there wouldn’t be enough water. Fortunately, our drainage is less popular. Still, in a dry year, we have to be careful not to overuse our well.

    Because of being oversold, the State has adopted a policy of aggressively reclaiming unused water rights– which leads to people using their water rights in order to protect them even if that use is wasteful. It’s not uncommon to see irrigation freezing to the ground in temperatures far too cold for alfalfa, or irrigators going full blast in the rain…

    But again, even though the laws are imperfect, at least Utah treats water as the scarce resource it is.

  4. Wars will be fought, blood spilt.

    Cadillac Desert was turned into a very good PBS five part mini including much more background than the book itself. Simply put, becoming pitiless to the plight of south-western (and coastal) communities is a matter of long-term survival.

    Out here on my corner of The High Desert we don’t worry much about water, having more-than adaquate known and (ahem) unknown aquifers, volcanic snowpack and ever diminishing glacial cascade runoff. Don’t even worry about the crazies in Phoenix, Vegas of LA stealing it, as it is physically impossible to steal water from The Republic of Oregon.

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