Household Uses of Ditch Water: Then and Now


Household Uses of Ditch Water: Then

It sounds very strange to us today, but in Boulder's early days, ditch water was considered pure and suitable for household use. Very few people had hand-dug wells, and those who did often found the water in them too alkali to drink or water stock with.

Well into the 1900's, people living out of town were entirely dependent on ditch water for household use. A 1905 water case describes household use of ditch water in the County:

"I have a cistern holding about 80 to 85 barrels. One filling of that cistern from the ditch will last my house maybe 2 months. I have filled it 4 times this winter. I have sometimes watered stock from the cistern... Were it not for water in this ditch, I would have to go to Boulder Creek a mile and a half distant for water..."--W.S. Groesbeck , Wm E Hodgson

"I had a good well from which I used water but we preferred the ditch water." --Peter M Housel 1905

Ditches did not just serve farmland; they were also Boulder's first household water system. Laterals from Anderson Ditch, Farmers Ditch and Silver Lake Ditch carried ditch water to every house in many city neighborhoods.

For many years, small ditches ran along Boulder's streets. In addition to supplying household water, these little cobblestone channels provided water for stock and trees, and helped keep the dust down.

Household Uses of Ditch Water: Now

We no longer use water directly from ditches for household purposes. But ditch water continues to recharge aquifers which supply household wells in Boulder County. Water levels in wells generally rise in April when the ditches start flowing, and drop in November after the ditches stop.

Without recharge from irrigation ditches, many wells in the County would produce less water, of lower quality.

Right, from top to bottom:

Women gathering water from Slack Ditch, near Marshall. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Downtown Boulder street lateral, c. 1896, 2400 block of Broadway. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

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