I noticed that there haven't been many postings here lately and I was concerned that Xeriscape gardeners are becoming an endangered species.
The Peak to Prairie Landscape Symposium in Colorado Springs in February has two seminars on Rain Gardens and Rainwater harvesting. I'm going to go and see what I can learn, then try to incorporate it into the class my Garden Group teaches on Xeriscape in March.
I already do it, but I'd need some guidance before I teach it because Rain Barrels are illegal in Colorado.
The best explanation I've heard of Colorado water law is "In Colorado, water runs uphill, toward money".
Second best explanation: Rainwater belongs to the water shed (river basin) and all the water rights on the river already belong to someone else, usually downstream. The rivers are also over-adjudicated, in other words there are more water shares and water owners than there is actual water. Worst case, if everyone put in rain barrels, the Rivers could go dry in a dry year. In 2002, the Arkansas and Platte went dry anyway (Kansas and Nebraska were not amused).
However, one is not obligated to increase the water flow off ones property either. Since any impermeable surface (a roof) increases the run-off, if it happens to all soak in before it leaves the property (a modified rain garden), it is legal.
I think - maybe.
Sounds like one reason to me, pollengarden. A tricky subject to teach. You may have to state it as "If you do it this way it is illegal, but if you do it this way it is not." Do the police go around checking people's back yards for rain barrels?
Well, we are in unincorporated county so it would be the Sheriff's department. They are spread pretty thin and usually have better things to do, and enforce most ordinances only when there is a complaint.
It is even more complicated than you think. As of this fall, it IS legal to collect water from your roof or other impermeable surface if you have a well permit. Otherwise, it is still technically against the law. However, there are many loopholes. If for example you channel the rainwater into a pond or bog (a.k.a. raingarden) you are within the law. A bog can be designed to drain very slowly into other flower beds, so that is precisely the technique I will be implementing this summer. It is of course necessary to ensure that there is no standing water for mosquitos to breed in, but that isn't hard to engineer given some PVC and a ball valve. In fact, if you had a valve of some sort to allow the water in your barrel to leak very SLOWLY into a bog in order to prevent creating a mosquito hatchery, I think you could also pass muster.
My understanding is you CANNOT store water in a pond without rights to that water. A bog/rain garden without surface water or a impermeable liner is okay, you are storing it in the soil of the water shed it belongs to - but not in a pond. It is confusing - after a rainstorm, when does a legal natural puddle become an illegal pond? Is it a matter of size? or duration?
Anyway - good Xeriscape principles: improve the water holding capacity of your soil, especially that construction compacted clay that Colorado's Front Range cities are famous for. Then take your Rain Water and "Slow it, Spread it, Sink it" into your soil. That is the hot new water conservation method called "Passive Rainwater Harvesting" that I am going to try and teach a class on tomorrow. It is very similar to what my father gave lectures on 50 years ago - back then they called it "Erosion Control". In my presentation, I am going to show "check dams" built by the Anasazi at Mesa Verde (illegal in Colorado - I presume the Anasazi got some sort of Grandfather clause? or maybe they are on New Mexico side of the park?).
I thought about the leaky rain barrel, too. If you used a larger capacity pipe for your downspout, with a small diameter outlet (a leak) at the bottom, is it okay? When does a downspout become a rain barrel? Again, capacity? or duration?
Here in dust-dry Pueblo West, a little rainwater and a little soil is the difference between sparse little weeds and large native shrubs. It can be a fairly dramatic difference.
Where grey water systems are legal, they have usually been done as a leach field - which gets rid of most of the health hazard concerns. I think you can have one here if you already have a permit for a septic system. And it would be legal for rain water here as long as you didn't put a pond liner under it - A leach field would return the rain water to the water shed, which is what Colorado requires. I agree that the soil is the best place to store your rain water - it is so easy and obvious I don't know why more people don't do it. Just remember to have some sort of overflow - plan a system that will work for both drought and flood conditions.
While the folks in CO fight the laws, this week we installed a catch system with 1500 gals of underground storage. We attached gutters to the canale -(( Water spout or rain trough that protrudes through a parapet wall, normally to drain water that collects on a flat roof.)) and the downspout goes to basin. A pump forces the water into the drip system. As a bonus the water requires a recirculating pump - so we have a small "water feature" - two rocks with holes. The water from the rocks drips back into the underground storage. And IF we get too much rain (ha!) there is an overflow system. Alas, the city will pay us $100 for each rain barrel but only $150 for this effort. The department is reviewing their incentive plans.
Saving water in the Land of Enchantment.
Oh wow... Austin used to have this weird complicated formula, but it did reward larger systems. They've just recently gone to a rebate based straight on storage capacity, the only difference is a higher rate for pressurized systems. So you wouldn't get anything extra for digging the hole, but at least you'd be rebated for your capacity.
(lol We just randomly got a foot of rain yesterday, so yeah, that overflow thing can come into play...)