Drinking Water Supply
The City of Boulder is fortunate to have several high-quality sources of water both east and west of the Continental Divide, including the headwaters of Boulder Creek and diversions from the upper Colorado River on the west slope.
The city's ability to obtain water from both east and west slope sources (watersheds) provides a measure of water service reliability in response to moderate, localized droughts or other events.
Water from the Barker Reservoir, Lakewood Reservoir and Silver Lake watersheds is either:
- drawn directly from Middle Boulder Creek or North Boulder Creek; or
- stored in Barker Reservoir, Lakewood Reservoir, Silver Lake Reservoir or another reservoir within the watersheds that are located on Middle and North Boulder creeks.
Water from the Boulder Reservoir and Colorado Big Thompson watersheds is either:
- delivered to the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment Plant from the Carter Lake Pipeline
- stored in Boulder Reservoir.
The City of Boulder owns approximately 26,000 acre feet of reservoir storage capacity for its system. The city's ability to obtain water from both east and west slope sources provides a measure of water service reliability in response to moderate, localized droughts.
In addition to resevoir storage, the city owns and operates eight hydroelectric power plants.
Barker Reservoir, located on Middle Boulder Creek, is owned by the City of Boulder. Water from Barker Reservoir is treated, along with the Silver Lake Watershed supply, at the Betasso Water Treatment Plant.
Completed in July 2002, the Middle Boulder Creek Water Source Management Work Plan provided and evaluated information about the Barker system and the Middle Boulder Creek watershed. Based on the information collected, the work plan recommended management decisions for the future.
Each year, typically between mid-May and June, the Barker Reservoir spills over due to runoff from melting mountain snow. This is a normal and expected event that increases flows in Boulder Creek and residents are urged to take caution around the creek.
Boulder Reservoir, located northeast of Boulder, Boulder Reservoir was built by the city to provide another source of drinking water. Boulder Reservoir has also become a popular recreation site. Boulder Reservoir is owned by the City of Boulder, but is operated by Northern Water.
Northern Water also operates the Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) Project and the Windy Gap Project. These two projects divert water from the upper Colorado River on the western slope and deliver it through a series of tunnels, canals and reservoirs to northeastern Colorado cities, farms and industries. Most of the water in Boulder Reservoir comes from the CBT and Windy Gap Projects via Carter Lake, although runoff from local drainage basins also adds to the water supply. Before the water in Boulder Reservoir is used for municipal purposes, the water is first treated at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment Plant.
Lakewood Reservoir is primarily fed by water from the city-owned Silver Lake Watershed via the Lakewood Reservoir Pipeline, but may also receive water from North Boulder Creek and Como Creek.
Silver Lake Reservoir
Melting snowpack during the spring and summer months is captured in Silver Lake Reservoir. The amount of water that is available for community use varies from year-to-year and depends on the level of snowpack in the surrounding mountains.
Reservoirs Photo Gallery
Inclusion in the Northern districts is a requirement for City of Boulder water service and is based on water supply agreements between the city and Northern. The vast majority of properties in the city are included in the Northern district at the time they annex into the city.
Recently, the city and Northern discovered that a number of properties were receiving city water service, but were not included in the applicable district. Boulder is one of several municipalities affected by this administrative issue, and the city plans to petition Northern to include affected properties within the service boundaries of the district and its Municipal Subdistrict. No action is required on the part of property owners to complete this process. The administrative correction will result in affected properties being formally subject to a property tax mill levy assessed by Northern.
On April 4, 2017, the City Council approved several ordinances that allow the completion of an administrative process to correct the issue. City staff will work with Northern to update official records.
Protecting drinking water at its source can help to prevent contamination and minimize treatment needs and costs. The city has long viewed source water protection as a proactive approach to preserving the water supply integrity, and worked with watershed stakeholders to develop a Source Water Protection Plan . Customers are encouraged to review the Source Water Protection Plan to learn more about the city’s watershed protection activities, and our routine source water monitoring and evaluation program, which allows for advance detection of a potential contamination event.
Hot and dry conditions make it increasingly important to conserve water! Visit the city’s Water Conservation webpage , which provides a variety of services to help customers manage water use in and around the City of Boulder.
The city’s Drought Plan ( Volume 1 and Volume 2 ) provides guidance for recognizing droughts that will affect water supply availability and for responding appropriately to these droughts. Learn about drought conditions and responses to frequently asked drought-related questions on the city’s Drought Watch webpage .
One of the ways the City of Boulder manages the year-to-year variation in water supply is through its agricultural water leasing program. In average or above average supply years, the leasing program allows the city to make surplus water supply available to other users.
Utilities’ Water Resources work group manages the city’s annual water leasing program, which primarily serves agricultural lessees for single year leases of Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) water. Each year, on Jan. 1, city staff begins accepting lease requests from prospective lessees. In June or July, depending on whether the city’s Boulder Creek reservoirs are full, annual water leases are offered to lessees based on the order the lease requests were received and with priority given to water users in Water District 6 (Boulder Creek basin). Once lease agreement documents are signed and payment is made to the city, arrangements are made to deliver water to the lessees. Lease rates are set annually and can be found in Boulder Revised Code Section 4-20-25(d) .
One unique type of lease involves augmentation water, which requires fully consumable water rights and typically requires a long-term commitment to meet the lessee’s needs. Due to water rights limitations and administrative burden, the city is currently unable to offer augmentation leases as part of the leasing program.
To learn more about water leases or to request an annual CBT lease, please contact:
Water Resources Specialist
The city creates irrigation ditches, or channels that deliver water from natural sources to homes, farms, businesses, industries and other uses. For further information about ditch companies, ditch maintenance, and information for homeowners and developers, please visit the city’s Irrigation Ditch Frequently Asked Questions .
For questions or issues regarding irrigation ditches, please contact:
Water Resource Specialist
To ensure that there will be an adequate supply of raw, untreated water available for future growth, the Utilities Division purchases water rights at market value, as they become available, from private individuals who own shares in local ditch companies.
The Utilities Division maintains a water portfolio that includes shares in numerous local irrigation ditch companies. As a shareholder, the city becomes a part owner of the ditch company.
City staff maintains close contact with the farming community through the ditch companies. The city can assist in ensuring adequate irrigation water supplies to select farming interests through its water leasing program.
Using city and contract legal services, the Utilities Division monitors all local water rights legal cases to ensure that the proposed changes have no detrimental impact to the city's water utility operations or to local ditch company interests.
Legal issues arising from city transfers are also litigated, with emphasis given to ensure that ditch company operations are not impacted by the transfers.
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.
- Prior to projected city growth, Boulder’s water facilities will have better delivery and storage capacities. Boulder has seen about 90% of its potential growth. Therefore, new homes and developments will have a limited additional impact on our water supply.
- It has been determined that the city will have sufficient water supplies to meet Boulder’s future needs within projected city growth 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.