Denver Water in driver’s seat

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Littleton has lots of great things about it, but water is not one of them.

Basically the only water the city has any absolute right to is more than 2,000 feet underground in natural aquifers, according to Dan Brown, attorney with water-law specialists Fischer, Brown, Bartlett and Gunn. Most of the rest of its water rights were transferred to Denver Water in 1970, after the city’s system was severely damaged by the flood of 1965. In exchange, Denver Water became the city’s provider.

The contract was renegotiated in 2011, with the controversial end result being that Denver Water would no longer guarantee service to areas Littleton might annex.

“Over the years since 1970, the board became more concerned about the undefined obligation represented by the annexation provision and wanted to replace the provision with a more predictable obligation,” reads the Denver Water staff’s recommendation to its board.

Denver Water paid about $2.6 million to the city to end that responsibility.

Littleton retained some junior rights through South Platte Park to ensure boat passage and fish habitat, as well as the right to use some City Ditch water to irrigate Geneva Park. Denver Water agreed to keep Ketring Lake full to the extent possible, with water channeled from the High Line Canal. But after several years of drought conditions, Denver Water decided to let the canal stay empty in 2013. That means the lake could dry up.

Littleton City Manager Michael Penny told the Aberdeen Village HOA that people have asked about using City Ditch water to fill Ketring, but the ditch is well below Ketring in elevation and at least a half-mile away.

“We would have to acquire more water rights — not a quick process,” he wrote in his email to the neighbors. “We really don’t have any other ideas for getting water to fill Ketring Lake. It would be difficult to justify using water for this purpose when we need to use water for more important reasons, especially in drought years.”

Councilor Jim Taylor asked about using aquifer water to fill the lake. Brown said the city can use whatever groundwater is under public land and not connected to a tributary with rights assigned to it, but getting to it is an expensive challenge. There are currently no wells accessing the basins, as far as Brown can tell.

“It becomes not a legal question, it’s a physical question,” he told council. “They’re expensive, so you don’t want to put them down there and then find out there’s no water there.”

“We are an arid state,” noted Councilor Jerry Valdes. “Just to pump water for the sake of putting it into a lake where it’s just going to evaporate …. Well.”

Brown said the aquifers could serve as protection against drought if they were accessed.

“If there was some sort of catastrophe, and Denver Water couldn’t give us water,” he said.