Water Planning and History
Water for Boulder’s Future
Within the projected build-out scenario, the City of Boulder will have sufficient water supplies to meet the city’s projected water needs to the level of reliability set by City Council. Several factors have contributed to this situation.
- In 1989, City Council established standards for the city to assure a reliable water supply for the community.
The city's reliability standards vary depending on the type of water use. For example, the city provides sufficient water to meet all community water needs during a drought severe enough to occur only once every 20 years on average. However, water for landscaping needs may be restricted for droughts that occur less often than every 20 years and may be eliminated entirely for droughts that occur about once every 100 years.
The 2002 drought was considered to be a 1-in-300 year drought within the Boulder Creek basin, which simply means its extremely uncommon. Despite the extraordinary drought, the city supplied all essential health and safety water needs and still provided some water for landscaping.
- Prior to projected build-out, Boulder’s water facilities will have better delivery and storage capacities. The city will improve its ability to meet our community's future water needs while continuing to meet the adopted reliability criteria for the water system through future droughts.
In 2002, more than half of the city’s water supply was delivered through the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment Plant. At that time, the capacity of the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment Plant and the Lakewood Pipeline limited the amount of water that could be carried into the city’s water system.
Since then, the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment Plant’s capacity has been expanded from 10 million gallons per day to 16 million gallons per day, and the Lakewood Pipeline has been rebuilt to carry more than 30 percent additional water when water is available.
- Boulder is about 90 percent built-out. Therefore, new homes and developments will have a limited additional impact on our water supply.
- Based on these three factors, it has been determined that the city will have sufficient water supplies to meet Boulder’s future needs within the projected build-out scenario for the city water service area, as defined in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.
Boulder's Water History
Read Boulder Waterworks: Past & Present for a complete historical summary.
The City of Boulder began acquiring and developing water supplies for its residents during its earliest days as a community.
- 1875 - The first storage reservoir was constructed in Sunshine Canyon and was filled from Boulder Creek.
- 1879 - The city had already begun to outgrow this water supply. The quality of water diverted from Boulder Creek was often poor due to mine tailings washing into the creek upstream.
City Council developed a plan to acquire ownership of a high-mountain watershed and water rights, free of pollution from the mines, and to pipe the pure water to Boulder.
- 1904 - The city made its first land purchases along North Boulder Creek in what was to become the city-owned Silver Lake Watershed.
The U.S. Congress deeded most of the land in the Silver Lake Watershed to the City of Boulder specifically for water supply purposes. The watershed contains 13 reservoirs and natural lakes that are fed by snowmelt and melting of Arapahoe Glacier. This high-quality water supply was sufficient to meet all of Boulder's water needs until the 1950s.
- 1950s - A severe drought, combined with exploding population growth, strained the limits of Boulder's water supply. The city made plans to develop additional water supplies resulting in the use of Barker Reservoir and Boulder Reservoir.