By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado is the only place in the country where it’s illegal to collect rainwater. You can direct it by changing your gutters or grading but you can’t collect it. The law dates back more than a century, but Rep. Jessie Danielson is hoping to change it.

“If I can shovel snow off from my sidewalk and put it on my lawn, why can’t I use a rain barrel to take it from my sidewalk to put on my tomato plants?” said Danielson, D-Jefferson County.

CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Jefferson County (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Jefferson County (credit: CBS)

She says homeowners ought to be able to collect rainwater and use it where they need it most, as long as they put it back into the ground. Her bill would allow Coloradans to collect up to 110 gallons of water at a time. Danielson points to modeling by Colorado State University finding little effect on downstream users.

“I grew up on a farm in northern Colorado, an irrigated farm, and I can tell you as farmer’s daughter, it just makes good Colorado common sense,” she said.

But rancher and water engineer Jim Yahn says taking even a little water out of the downstream flow can make a big difference.

Water engineer Jim Yahn (credit: CBS)

Water engineer Jim Yahn (credit: CBS)

“There are people waiting at head gates when it rains in Denver. We watch the water come down. I’m not kidding. We watch the water come down the river. We’re waiting for that water to come to our head gate so we can apply it to our crops,” Yahn said.

Yahn says the problem is that rain barrels don’t just allow people to divert the water, but to save it until they need it.

“And then you’re going to actually apply this to your lawn at a time when it’s dry so this water would have run off but now, if you’re going to hold it until later, and your lawn is going to use it all,” he said.

But Danielson insists the bill will result in more water for everyone by encouraging conservation.

“I like to think of it as, if people see how little water really accumulates in their rain barrels when they go to water their tomato plants, they may think twice the next time they go to turn on their faucet to water their lawn with drinking water,” she said.

The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee. It’s the second year it’s been introduced at the Capitol. Last year it failed in the Republican controlled Senate.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.