Opinion

Children’s tears being counted by water experts?

Author: - March 27, 2015 - Updated: March 27, 2015

A water expert opposed a bill allowing rain barrels testifying that he accounted for every molecule of water in the South Platte Basin.

I was quite stunned. With these deity-like powers, we could have saved taxpayers money and time by forgoing the hassle of drafting and passing HB12-1278 and paying the Colorado Water Institute to study high groundwater areas blooming along the South Platte which are ravaging private property and destroying farmland with salinization.

Already, thousands of scofflaws could have been swatted and fined based on the retail sales of rain barrels in Colorado – not because most are “don’t ask, don’t tell” – but because most citizens don’t think to ask if their government considers them criminals for doing something that seems ecologcal, self-sufficient and thrifty.

Consider that the over-arching tenet of water law insists that the State Engineer must ensure water in Colorado is put to beneficial use and not wasted. However, there is a weight bending that arc to and fro like a giant pendulum: considering potential harm to senior water rights. Many a bill has received a pair of cement shoes based on testimony that changes in water administration could cause potential harm to senior water rights holders, albeit many times that testimony was not accompanied by data. No need, after all, when we can rely on the current crop of water mystics that measure molecules in rainbows touching down in a certain basins.

But let’s entertain for a moment that every hydrogen atom connected to two oxygen atoms is accurately measured. In order for opponents of the rain barrel bill to be consistent with their claims of injury based on homeowner’s actions, they would also have to insist that the State Engineer’s office immediately create a Tree SWAT Team to maintain current flows to the river by policing tree growth. An average sapling drinks a gallon of water a day during the summer and a mature tree can drink and transpire up to 100 gallons in one day. Therefore, new trees planted by homeowners are clearly violating prior appropriation doctrine with their consumptive use of waters that cannot flow back to the river. Planting an apple tree? Not so fast, little Johnny!

In addition, the State Engineer would also have to initiate a Lawn Patrol to ensure no further immigration of consumptive bluegrass; and a Driveway Task Force to ensure car washes drain to the river without shrinkage of vested water rights downstream. Since Agenda 21 is already taken, the legislature will have to come up with something catchier—like The Naked Agenda 21 and 1/2.

In contrast, homeowners would probably fill rain barrels during rare events of deluge that would cause some flood waters to occur and wash downstream to Kansas and Nebraska. And then those Colorado homeowners are required to put that water on the very soil where that rain had been pre-destined to splash. Those homeowners could possibly apply captured rain into the soil at such a time to reduce a call on the river by an equal amount from a municipality – which then won’t have to spend money on untreated water the citizen may have otherwise drawn from the tap to water their basil plants. Since the rain barrel bill does not authorize capturing water indefinitely for nefarious purposes, such as HOA waterparks or ill-fated attempts at cold fusion, the water will go back into the ground for which it was pre-destined for a potentially higher yield on herb plants than if already consumed by the aforementioned bluegrass or a typical suburban model ash tree.

Currently, the science we do have on rain collection comes from a pilot study in Douglas County which shows 97 percent of precipitation doesn’t make it back to the river upon the shocking rediscovery that Colorado is semi-arid, which means the rains don’t follow the plow as our first governor advertised, nor the prayer of labor, nor anything else that mankind has devised other than cloud-seeding for skiers that produce extra bounties without a thank you note from downstream users.

In addition, our prior appropriation system does not adequately account for Mother Nature as evidenced by the insistence that we inject as much water after 2013 floods into an aquifer that is now full and pouring into residential basements as we did before a thousand-year flood event. I have also asked many farmers why they don’t account for rainfall on their augmentation ponds even though these ponds also store water temporarily. Why don’t farmers consider themselves rain bandits? Because like their suburban fellows, they don’t think to ask if their state considers them criminals.

In short, rain barrels could be yet another way to re-time a river. The ability to re-time rivers is the main reason for the population growth possible today rather than prosperity allowed by natural rivers that only flowed May, June, and part of July in the 1800’s. Consider this quote from 1872:

“We came to the shallow, yellow, muddy South Platte, with its low banks and its scattering of flat sand-bars and pigmy islands — a melancholy stream straggling through the centre of the enormous flat plain, and only saved from being impossible to find with the naked eye by its sentinel rank of scattering trees standing on either bank,” wrote Mark Twain in Roughing It. “The Platte was ‘up,’ they said — which made me wish I could see it when it was down, if it could look any sicker and sorrier.”

But now if every molecule is measured and therefore owned by someone else, the next time my child sheds a tear over a lost teddy bear or a scuffed knee, I’ll explain why big government wants a permit for the dispensation of her sorrow.

State Rep. Lori Saine, a Republican represents House District 63 in Weld County.

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