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Boulder Water Supply Story

Boulder Water Supply Story:
Snow Caps to Water Taps and Beyond

Image from Library of Congress collection. For large image of Arapahoe Peak and Glacier taken by Ed Tangen in 1921, click here (175k) or go to BASIN Gallery.

"...Boulder's water supply system used to consist of a glacier and sun. The sun melted the glacier into water and the water ran down the creek into the city. Citizens put in a few pipes and pumps to bring the water to them. That was all." Andy Briscoe, City of Boulder


Boulder receives drinking water from three sources: Arapahoe Glacier and Silver Lake Reservoir (40%), Barker Reservoir (40%) and the Colorado River(20%) via the Colorado-Big Thompson Transbasin Diversion Project. Water fromArapahoe Glacier and Barker Reservoir is piped to the Betasso Water Plant.Water from the Colorado River is piped to Boulder Reservoir through the Boulder Feeder Canal. It is treated at the 63rd Street Water Treatment Plant. The water goes through a series of treatment steps including: coagulation, sedimentation, filtration. It is then piped to our homes through an extensive distribution system.

Boulder's wastewater is collected in sewer pipes and delivered to the 75th Street Wastewater Treatment Plant. Here the used water undergoes extensive treatment including: settling, filtering, solids contact, and chlorination/dechlorination before it is discharged into Boulder Creek for users downstream.

The third set of water pipes are those that collect stormwater runoff from streets, parking lots, roofs and other surfaces and carries it to the nearest creek. Storm drains are connected directly to creeks and ditches in Boulder. What this means is that anything that gets picked up by stormwater such as litter, fertilizer, oil, leaves, pet waste and more is discharged directly to a creek. It is important that we work to keep our streets, yards and parking lot clean in order to keep our creeks clean.

Historical Sketch

Settlers arrived in the Boulder area in 1858. They were lured westward by the tales of gold discoveries in the Rocky Mountains. The first groups of settlers, lead by Capt. Thomas Aikins, arrived at the mouth of BoulderCanyon below Red Rocks at Settlers' Park.

Small gold veins were found in several places throughout the foothills, with the most notable discovery in Gold Hill. However, the abundance of gold was not what they had expected. During the spring of 1859, some of the discouraged gold seekers moved east to the Boulder area. The town of Boulder would grow quickly; in fact, the town prospered with new businesses, banks and educational institutions.

The town of Boulder realized in the 1870's that in order to have dependable water supplies throughout the year, they would have to build a reservoir. The first reservoir, complete with a sand filter, was built in 1875. Water flowed down to Pearl Street through an 8 inch cast iron pipe to the public square (site of the Boulder County Courthouse) which lay 160 feet below the elevation of the reservoir. Many Boulder residents got their water at the public square. The trip to town for water became a social event; citizens took time to visit, perhaps watch a baseball game between Boulder City and Sunshine, and then trudge home with full pails.

In the early 1900's the city realized that it would need to secure more drinking water sources if the area was to support a thriving town. One of the head figures in developing the city's drinking water plan was Eben G.Fine, whom we have named a city park after.

What follows is an account by Eben G. Fine of the Boulder water supply plan:

In 1900, I discovered Arapaho Glacier. Six years after this discovery, the city of Boulder purchased Silver Lake from James P. Marshall. Later, other lakes in the Boulder Creek Watershed, together with twenty three hundred acres of land on either side of the stream flowing from Silver Lake, forming North Boulder Creek were purchased. The purpose of this purchase was to being safeguarding the purity of the water by closing off the area and patrolling the stream from the lake to the city's storage reservoir a few miles below.

In 1919, a bill was introduced in the Congress and passed, enabling the city of Boulder to purchase out of the Roosevelt National Forest, three thousand six hundred ninety five acres of land, including Arapaho Glacier and the entire Arapaho watershed, as the source of the city's water supply. The purchase was completed and the money paid over to the Government in 1925.

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Last Page Update - Tuesday December 27, 2005