Owning the rain: the insanity of water rights

This is old news but I just heard about it. Apparently in Utah and Colorado it’s illegal to “divert” any water source that contributes to someone’s downstream water rights- including the rain falling out of the sky. A car dealership that sought to use collected rain to wash its cars received a rude shock:

This is so wrong on so many levels I scarcely know where to begin. If I hadn’t discovered that this is real, I would have scoffed at it as a right-wing paranoid’s doomsaying that conservation laws are a liberal conspiracy to impose ecosocialism on the populace. At a minimum one would think that title to a property should automatically include the right to rainfall catchment unless expressly said otherwise. What next, we have to get permission to have children so that we’re not “robbing” someone of resources? :mad:

If I go out and kill 100 illegal aliens, can I have the water they would have used? [evil grin]

Haven’t read your link yet, but will try to get to it later.

Just wanted to say it was a rude shock to me too when I found out that just outside of Cripple Creek, at least in the section I was in, I wasn’t going to even be allowed to collect water off of my roof. AIUI, other surrounding states sued CO for a great deal of their water and won out. Even though they do have water police, many counties are not all that crazy about enforcing it too strictly since they think the ruling was unfair, and most are not going to be spending much in county or state dollars enforcing a great deal of it. Some areas are more strict than others. I’m getting this info from some realtors, don’t now how accurate any of it is.

At least one parcel I was looking at in Huerfano county did have two adjudicated springs running through it that I had legal access to take water from. You’ll also find 35 acres parcels popular, because this is another law I was told about that says if you want to drill a well, you need that minimum. Some parcels are grandfathered in that are smaller, and there are also other laws I forgot about, but the water situation is a bit crazy.

Something else that drove me crazy in the rural areas, was getting access to your property. Chances are, you’ll be passing through several other landowners property before you get to yours, and them also using your land to get to theirs too.

Not many people are yet aware that several megacorps, mostly the food conglomerates, are buying up enormous swathes of water rights across the middle and northern band of the US, where they are going cheap because there’s no particular demand or issues.


I predict the battles 20-40 years from now will make things like the southwest/California water wars look like a hand of whist.

That’s why if you spring a leak, she mends you. :cool:

Yeah, it’s not like diverting water could cause problems at any scale.

The Colorado River reached the ocean within the lifetime of most of us here. It now just… runs out somewhere in the Arizona desert.

Its a bad law with good intentions.

If your livelihood depended on a river and someone who owns the land upstream decides to divert it and extort you or drive you out, you’d be pissed too. If there’s no law against diverting water upstream, what’s to stop anyone from trying to divert water for their own needs? I do think that the rain collecting thing is a big over the top, but I see it as an example of a badly written law that needs to be updated.

Oh, do it anyway. After all, if they take you to court, you won’t have to speak, she’ll defend you.

(Does the ferry still run? ;))

Only on Arrakis, called Dune.

A private landowner collecting rainfall is not in the same stratosphere as a government intentionally diverting established water channels.

California changed their laws a few years ago to allow rain barrels. Prior to that it was illegal to collect or divert rain water in California as well. Now you can install barrels and drip systems to reduce water usage.

As long as the spice keeps flowing, the [del]Supreme Court[/del] Landsraad won’t care.

It sounds silly but image a farm owner building a levee that catches all the rain fall on a large farm. His downhill neighbors would be cut off from a water supply they had relied on for their farms. I’m sure these laws were fought over many times in the past, when we were a primarily agrarian nation the details of water rights were major political issues. All for naught looking at the water situation in California.

It’s quite common for Easterners to have trouble understanding the basis for water law in the West. Rest assured that it is based on sound logic. Other people have touched on some of that.

Ownership of property does not mean ownership of mineral rights. Why should water rights be any different? Just because something is physically on your property does not automatically mean that you own it–your scheme would mean that all easements would be null and void.

What? And here I intended that as a one-to-one comparable activity. I’m so embarrassed.

I’m not saying there should be no exemptions to water right laws, but the OP’s “At a minimum one would think that title to a property should automatically include the right to rainfall catchment unless expressly said otherwise.” made no mention of scale of the property or limits to the area of catchment even if unstated intention was meant to be catching rain water on buildings.

The linked article itself says that this is no longer true:

(In California, too, as Strassia mentions.)

So for nearly a year now I don’t see much call for the outrage of the OP.

By your own statement, this system is designed to protect certain private owners of water rights.

So, a system designed to protect the water rights of certain private property owners constitutes “ecosocialism?” Do you even know what socialism is?:dubious:

This legal system has its roots far older than the modern environmental movement and has nothing to do with socialism. And it wasn’t developed with conservation in mind. The Western part of the country generally uses a legal regime called “prior appropriation.” Under this regime, the first person to take water for “beneficial use” is the person who gets rights to it, and other people aren’t allowed to divert his water or interfere with his water rights. The doctrine was developed primarily as a way to incentive private development of the West and to benefit pre-existing property owners.

PS: I’m not defending this system. I think it needs to be overhauled from top to bottom.

PSS: Some Western states use a mixed system of “prior appropriation” and “riparian” rights, and not all states regulate rain water in this fashion.

Many counties even subsidize the cost of rain barrels.

I read the article linked to by the OP, and it makes the OP’s claims of ecosocialism even more ridiculous. From the article:

So, the position the article takes is that capturing rainwater is the conservationist position, while the preventing the capture of rainwater is anti-conservationist.

And, so, the article makes clear: (a) we’re dealing with a system that dates back to the 1850s and (b) it’s about private water rights.

86% of water deliveries go to private agriculture, and the legal system (at least according to the article) was designed to keep to keep those water deliveries going.

The position of the article, then, is that (a) the laws prohibiting rainwater collection were about private rights and (b) the conservationist position is to allow collection of rainwater. Yet, the OP wants to turn this completely on its head and claim that these laws were “ecosocialist” and were passed by conservationists.

The OP isn’t endorsing the view that this is ecosocialism–rather, they are articulating that as a parody of how they imagine some conservatives would view this story.