‘West Slope kid’ travels unlikely road to Denver Water

New Planning director Mike King confronts climate change, new regulations and the ever-changing need for water.

March 9, 2016 | By: Jay Adams

Mike King grew up in western Colorado, where Denver Water was often seen as a bully — a giant on the eastern plains that needed water from the mountains to quench its rapidly growing thirst.

Now he’s the new director of Planning — with the job of ensuring that 1.3 million people have a safe and reliable water supply in the future.

“Growing up in Montrose, I never envisioned working for Denver Water. But this is not my grandfather’s Denver Water — this is a very different agency,” he said.

Mike King, director of Planning
Mike King, director of Planning.

“There’s been a fundamental shift in how Denver Water does business compared to 20, 25 years ago,” King added. “It’s much more of a collaborative message to the West Slope and to other constituencies.”

Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050, presenting King and his colleagues with the challenge of meeting the metropolitan area’s demand for water and doing it “in a way that preserves the rest of the state for future generations,” he said.

The state also faces changing water consumption patterns, increased downstream demands, possible changes to government regulations and climate change. “It’s the uncertainty of the magnitude of the impacts of climate change that really will put us to the test,” King said. “We have to make sure we develop options for meeting our future water needs that give us some flexibility.”

King spent nearly six years as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and knows firsthand that conflict is inevitable when dealing with natural resources. He’s worked on regulations with the oil and gas industry and hammered out solutions for land, water and forest management.

Mike King with his daughter Sydney.
Mike King with his daughter Sydney.

“You develop thick skin during negotiations,” King said. “You have to be true to your center and understand what it is you’re willing to compromise on and which things are fundamental values to both sides.”

An avid outdoorsman, King likes nothing more than to head to his cabin in Park County with his wife, Amy, and their three children. “Having lived my whole life in Colorado, loving the outdoors is just part of my DNA,” he said. “Whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking or camping, being outdoors is what it means to be in our family.”

His passion for nature helps guide his view of water management. Landmark agreements like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement showed him Denver Water’s “commitment to doing things right and actually walking the walk,” he said.

King said he wants to continue to improve Denver Water’s reputation and hold the organization’s decision-making to the highest standards. With a new rush of people on the Front Range and a passion to protect the outdoors, King said he knows Denver Water has to get it right.

“It’s not so much about the water, it’s about managing how we work with other entities around the state,” he said. “The water will come, but it’s the trust and the relationships that will determine our path in the future.

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