The best $14 million Denver ever spent

As we reflect on Denver Water’s first 100 years, we can’t help but be excited for the next.

January 29, 2018 | By: Jimmy Luthye
Denver Water fleet crews in the 1930s (top) and a 2018 photo reenactment with current employees.
Denver Water fleet crews in the 1930s (top) and a 2018 photo re-enactment with current employees.

Water.

A simple word for a simple molecule responsible for every living thing on this planet.

It’s kind of a big deal.

That human beings have perfected the art of treating and delivering clean, safe drinking water insofar that much of the world never has to think twice about it is nothing short of miraculous.

In 2018, Denver Water is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It’s an impressive feat that represents much more than just a number.

“Our 100th anniversary serves as a milestone that will usher in a new century of innovation and foresight to preserve and protect our water supply for generations to come,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.

And while this gives us a great chance to look toward the future, it also allows us to reflect on our fascinating past.

Long before Denver was born, the South Platte River and Cherry Creek were oases for people who traveled the dry Great Plains. These early pioneers could make do without many things.

Water was not one of them.

That’s why they camped along the banks of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, drinking water straight from the source.

Employees hard at work in the water quality lab of the Denver Union Water Company in 1896.
Employees in the water quality lab of the Denver Union Water Company in 1896 — 22 years before Denver residents voted to buy the company and turn it into a municipal agency.

Eventually, several private water companies started offering water service to the settlers, competing with each other for business before collapsing or merging with other companies.

Then, on Aug. 6, 1918, voters decided to buy the Denver Union Water Company and form the municipal agency now known as Denver Water for a sum of $14 million. In 2018 dollars, that’s roughly just shy of $250 million (or, as much as this house).

In doing so, Denver residents voted to create an entity that would operate independently from city government, keeping water service separate from local politics.

That progressive move by early Denverites paved the way for 100 years of stable water service.

When it was completed in 1905, Cheesman Dam was the tallest dam in the world, standing 221 feet above the streambed.
When it was completed in 1905, Cheesman Dam was the tallest dam in the world, standing 221 feet above the streambed.

The last 100 years hold a storied history of transformational, iconic moments, including construction of the world’s longest underground tunnel, the world’s tallest dam, and even a project kicked off with a blast from President Calvin Coolidge.

With the help of these engineering feats, we’ve built a complex, intricate system that delivers safe, clean water to 1.4 million people.

A century later, there are new trails to blaze.

“While this gives us a chance to reflect on a remarkable century, we remain steadfast in our commitment to securing our water future,” said Lochhead. “We’re expanding a dam, planning our roadmap for the next 50 years, modernizing the northern portion of our system, and using revolutionary sustainability practices in our new operations complex. The future is bright.”

So, as we celebrate in 2018, you’ll see one consistent theme. What theme, you ask?

Past, present and future: Our commitment to water runs deep.

 

Take a trip down memory lane with the videos below, highlighting major milestones in Denver Water’s recent past.

 

 

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