Denver Water’s 21st century modus operandi: Collaboration

Water Resources Center poised to unite Colorado interests on both sides of the divide.

May 21, 2018 | By: Steve Snyder

We certainly have a lot to be proud of during our first century of operation. We provide 1.4 million customers with a safe, reliable water supply through a complex system that includes about 4,000 miles of watershed land and more than 3,000 miles of pipe. Though our system has stood the test of time, we’re constantly investing in our infrastructure while finding innovative ways to be good stewards of our environment.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead speaks at the recent "Water in the West" symposium put on by Colorado State University.
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead speaks at the recent “Water in the West” symposium put on by Colorado State University.

And in order to ensure another 100 years of successful operation, Denver Water has changed the way we approach relationships and partnerships. You see, business was handled much differently during the early parts of the 20th century.

Early in our history, Denver Water was very much focused within our boundaries, and quite frankly, on our own interests. Some of our forefathers ruffled feathers across the state, particularly on the West Slope, as Denver Water secured additional water supplies from the Colorado River to meet the needs of people who settled in the metro area.

We were accused by some of being myopic in our approach — only interested in our small section of Colorado rather than the good of the entire state. Colorado State Historian Patricia Limerick documented this in her book, “A Ditch in Time.”

Fast-forward to today, and collaboration is now the modus operandi for Denver Water.

Agreements like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project and the From Forests to Faucets partnership all bring together diverse entities with shared interests in water, the environment and the overall health of Colorado.

And we’re not done yet.

As part of the redevelopment at the National Western Center, Denver Water is looking to Colorado State University’s Water Resources Center to bring a broad perspective of water interests together in one place to collectively focus on research, policy, education and innovation.

Speaking at a recent symposium hosted by Colorado State University, Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead discussed the vision of the Water Resources Center.

“This will be a neutral, science-based center focused on finding solutions to real-world problems,” he said. “We are interested in helping to bring together agencies across various disciplines to work on challenges common to all of us. Denver Water can provide the applied perspective, based on the scope of our reach as a leading water resource manager in the West.”

This means not only reaching across the state, but working across diverse industries with the common connection of water.

“If you look at Denver Water’s scope of influence, it starts with a very wide stretch of the Rocky Mountains, where we get our water supply,” Lochhead said. “We partner with various interests on watershed health and other environmental issues.”

According to Lochhead, Denver Water’s scope is equally broad on the eastern portion of the state.

“We must work collaboratively with the downstream users of our water supply, particularly on the agricultural side,” he said. “Agricultural and urban interests must work together to tackle the challenges in our state.”

Enter the possibilities of the Water Resources Center.

“I believe the center can be an integration point for bringing together these interests,” Lochhead concluded. “Denver Water has the obligation to balance interests from the West Slope to downstream users, and across both agricultural and urban interests. We can’t continue the zero-sum game of water management where one side gains a benefit at another’s expense.”

It’s an ambitious goal, but with diverse interests from the public, private and non-profit sector lining up to support the project, the Water Resources Center is positioned to be a key conveyor in developing collaborative solutions to the state’s water challenges.

 

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