Colorado’s Water Issues: A One-Hundred-and-Nineteen-Year-Old Legacy


In the middle of the Auraria Campus, right off of Historic 9th Street, is an aqua-colored metal horse trough. The plaque at the bottom reads, “Horse Trough originally located at 19th Street and Broadway, Denver 1898.” This historic landmark is a symbol of not only the thriving history of Denver, but also of the water issues in Colorado from 1898 to today.

In the 1800s, when Colorado was still mainly a mining community, Denver was a thriving town, the cultural center of the state. It was also the main source of food for the miners and homesteaders living in the mountains and on the Eastern Plains. While those areas were food deserts, Denver was the optimal environment for growing at the time.

The only problem with that was horses. Denver may have had many resources, but constant uses of those resources caused many issues, including some of those we have today. Farmers in Denver needed horses to plow their fields, but the horses needed food so that they could survive. So the farmers began growing alfalfa for the horses, digging irrigation ditches to water the fields. And so began the never-ending cycle that has created many of the water issues that plague Colorado to this day.

Above the building next to the horse trough, a new skyscraper is being erected. The symbol of man’s expansion, it is almost as large as our famed “Cash-Register Building,” a monolith rising high above the city and into the vast Colorado sky. As our city expands, so do our water issues. More pollution and more water usage are a negative to the changes rapidly spreading across the city, and will bring about inevitable problems in the coming years. One half of the water that is pumped into Denver is from the Colorado River, causing environmental issues and a potential for water shortages as our city grows. It is estimated that in the next fifteen years, almost a million people will move to Denver. This will pose problems to the city’s water supplies, also causing more and more damage to Colorado’s environment. Tom Cech, Director of the One World, One Water Center (OWOW Center) in Denver, says that the biggest issue for Denver’s water in the next fifteen years is “Population growth.” Cech believes that as our population grows, “That means more people here, straining limited water resources.”

Denver’s water problems have been chipping away at our resources for over one hundred years. From the days of the miners all the way to 2017, the Mile High City has had a history of issues with water supply. Colorado’s citizens must consider what will be done about this, or else the problems will multiply exponentially in the future.