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Boulder Water Supply Story

Boulder Water Supply Story- Teacher Tips

Boulder Water Supply Story:
Snow Caps to Water Taps and Beyond
Activity 1.3

Teacher Tips 


Level 1
45-60 minutes


Students will learn about the three water systems (drinking, waste and stormwater), gain a historical perspective of water uses, and discuss challenges and choices facing us today. NOTE: This activity focuses on the treatment plants for Boulder; if you live outside the city, you can find out where your drinking water and waste water are treated.


It is important for people to understand where their water comes from, the process it undergoes before it arrives at the tap, and where it goes once we've used it.

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.


  • Map of Boulder Creek Watershed
  • Check out Boulder Water Story video
  • Copies of The Boulder Water Story Student Video Worksheet
  • Check out Water History Trunk

Boulder's Water Story Activity- 13 minute video

1. Start this session by watching Boulder's Water Story. This video lays out the Boulder water supply system. It discusses the three major sources of drinking water supply and reviews drinking water and wastewater treatment. It provides a good overview of the water supply systemwhich will lend itself to further discussions including: water quality, urban development,water pollution, interconnection of humans and environment, and more.

2. After viewing the video, you can transition into a discussion about the history of Boulder's water supply.

Water History Trunk

The Water History Trunk (a collection of antique water artifacts) is available for check out from the Water Resource Educator. For this activity, arrange artifacts on a table for the students to browse through. After all students have had the opportunity to review the items, pick one out and have a volunteer from the class explain what it is and how/why it was used. Do this with each of the items as time permits.

Answers to Boulder's Water Story Quiz

1. What are the three sources of Boulder's drinking water?

Arapaho Glacier (40%), Barker Reservoir (40%) and the Colorado River via the Colorado-Big Thompson Windy Gap Diversion Project (20%) which is delivered to Boulder Reservoir through the Boulder Feeder Canal from Carter Lake.

2. What are the advantages/disadvantages to piping our water from Silver Lake and Barker to the Betasso Drinking Water Plant?

Advantages: Water does not evaporate out of the pipes, and it cannot be contaminated

Disadvantages: It is expensive to build and maintain pipelines; pipelines are not beautiful like a flowing stream.

3. What are the advantages/disadvantages to using Boulder Reservoir as a drinking water source and a place for recreation?

Advantages: it provides two things-- water and fun-- from the same body of water.

Disadvantages: recreation can add pollutants to the water that make it more difficult to treat.

4. What is the average rainfall for Boulder? (14-18 inches/yr.)

5. List several ways that you conserve water.

6. We cannot make more water for our use; all the water that is available to use is right here on Earth. Knowing this, what types of actions should we take with regards to water pollution, water quality, and conservation?


1. Have students do research on the history of water in Boulder. Examples

  • Historic water uses in Boulder (mining, farming, etc).
  • Ditches: Who owns them? Who uses them? What are they for?
  • Hydropower in Boulder

Much of this information can be found through the BASIN website.

2. Visit Betasso Water Treatment Plant or the 75th Street Wastewater Plant

Key Words

  • Coagulation
  • Filtration
  • Sedimentation
  • Chlorination
  • Storm drains

People to Contact

  • City of Boulder Water Resource Educator 413-7365
  • City of Boulder Stormwater Quality Office 413-7350
  • City of Boulder Drinking Water Program 413-7400
  • City of Boulder Wastewater Treatment Plant 413-7340
  • WWW sites:


Phyllis Smith. A History of the Waterworks of Boulder, CO. April 1986
Video Worksheet
The Boulder Water Story video

Science Standards

#4.3 Students know major sources of water, its uses and importance, and its cyclic patterns of movement through the environment.

#5 Students know ways that science, technology, and human activity have an impact on the world and its resources.

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Last Page Update - Tuesday December 27, 2005