Denver Drinking Water Quality: Yesterday
Long before Denver earned its reputation as a mountainous, lush tourist oasis, brave travelers making the trek out west sought refuge on the shores of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Like the area’s early settlers and original Native Americans, who camped along the riverbanks, Denver residents today can still trace their drinking water through their taps to these bodies of water.
As surface wells and buckets soon gave way to more sophisticated water systems, Denver emerged at the forefront of national water development. Completed in 1867, City Ditch, the city’s first water system – which can still be found to flow freely through Washington Park – turned Denver’s dusty plains into a thriving city. Denver became the first major city in the United States to filtrate its water in 1884, using a system of wood stave pipes, and the first to treat its water with chlorine in 1911.
The Dust Bowl proved that water storage across the midwest was just as vital as water management. The Cheesman Reservoir, completed in 1905, ended Denver’s reliance on in-town storage, wells, and streamflow. Standing tall at 221 feet high, Cheesman was the world’s tallest reservoir in its day. Completed during one of the worst droughts in U.S. history, Eleven Mile Canyon Dam was the largest dam in the Denver system, and the Moffat Water Tunnel Diversion Project brought water across the continental divide. Learn more about the Moffat Water Tunnel construction by watching the video below:
The Williams Fork Reservoir would later carry the city’s water into the future after its 1959 expansion into hydroelectric generating plant, one of seven still in operation today.