Between right and rain

Colorado residents are no longer considered criminals for catching rainwater now that two new laws have passed. Antiquated laws involving water rights had prohibited the activity since the early days of the state’s settlement. A 2007 study showing that 97 percent of the precipitation falling in Douglas County, Colo., evaporated or was used by plants—not those holding water rights—helped convince the state’s lawmakers to change the law.

Though the old law was rarely enforced, the state’s residents—in a bittersweet turn—are now free to collect rainwater but they can be fined if they do so without a permit.

Rainwater harvesting laws vary widely from state to state. Though mandatory in New Mexico, it’s illegal to catch rain in Utah. In Washoe County, water rights take precedence over rain capture, though it’s highly unenforced.

Colorado small-scale farmer Todd S. Anderson, referring to his state’s former laws, told the New York Times, “I’m conflicted between what’s right and what’s legal. And I hate that.”