Northern Water to push ‘graywater’ bill

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District plans to lobby for passage of a bill allowing homeowners and businesses to reuse dish-washing, shower and other graywater.

Colorado water law allows just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant and back into the river for others to use. There are exemptions, however. For instance, Denver International Airport is allowed to use graywater from its sinks for sprinkler water on remote fields that are closed off to the public.

Republican lawmakers in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee narrowly defeated the bill in a 5-4 vote in committee last year. Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, will reintroduce the bill, which he thinks stands a better chance of drawing bipartisan support this year.

Fischer, chairman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, explained that he believes House Speaker Mark Ferrandino will help send the bill to the full House. Water bills are usually first considered in the agriculture committee.

Fischer also has tweaked the bill slightly to win support from lawmakers, including addressing concerns about water rights, he said. The bill also would authorize the state Water Quality Control Commission to create rules for graywater use, a provision meant to address public health concerns.

Coming from showers and sinks, graywater can be used for toilet flushing, outdoor irrigation and other purposes. Although not generally permitted in Colorado, graywater is used in homes and businesses in other Western states.

Fischer believes use of graywater represents one of many ways the state should conserve water to meet a projected future supply gap. A recent study from the Colorado Water Conservation Board forecasts a shortage of more than 3 million acre-feet in Colorado River water by 2060.

A population in the Colorado River basin states that could double to 35 million by 2060 will contribute to the increased water use and supply imbalance, according to the study. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to supply 2½ households for one year.

“I think it’s very important to have as many tools available as possible to promote wide use of our water sources,” Fischer said.

Northern Water agrees and plans to endorse the bill in its role as a member of the Colorado Water Congress, a water advocacy group comprised of districts throughout the state, officials said.

“It’s good practice in the water community, where we can, to try to promote efficiency,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “This is an opportunity we have to work with the representative on the language in the bill that gets to something that he wants and is usable by the water community.”

Northern Water also plans to back a bill from Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, that will ensure water left in reservoirs is not considered abandoned and released.

“Water storage is critical to Colorado’s water needs going forward,” Hodge said in an email. “Clearly defining its use is vital.”

The bill would reverse parts of a state Supreme Court decision in Upper Yampa Water Conservation District v. Wolfe from 2011. The high court upheld a lower court’s decision that to keep a water right, a water district must show it has used the resource.

Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson supports the bill because he has concerns that the court decision will prevent use of water in reservoirs that see occasional use but serve the important purpose of storing water for use during droughts.

“People are concerned about what might happen in general with storage rights in the future,” he said. The bill is “more or less trying to address those concerns.”

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