The Turnpike Land Co. launched development on Broomfield Heights, a precursor to incorporated Broomfield, in 1955 along the north side of the recently built Denver-Boulder Turnpike, completed in 1952. The city’s water originally came from a pair of lakes on the family farm land of Adolph Zang, ditch water rights and three large wells, according to local historian Silvia Pettem’s 2001 book, “Broomfield: Changes Through Time.”
By May 1955, work had begun on a water main from nearby Great Western Reservoir, which was fed by Clear Creek through the Church Ditch. It would be Broomfield’s main source of water for its first decade as a city.
In 1970, as Broomfield’s population grew to more than 7,000, the city, under the leadership of a then recently hired City Manger George Di Ciero, used federal funding to purchase an 11-million-gallon-per-day allotment from Denver Water. According to Pettem’s book, a Daily Camera article that ran in 1970 referred to the purchase as “all the water (Broomfield) will ever need.”
That proved short-lived, as it was just three years later that radioactive contamination was first found in Great Western Reservoir. The terrifying revelation that the nearby Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant had leaked contaminants into city drinking water sent many locals running out to buy bottled water, Pettem wrote.
After a 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats, Broomfield spearheaded regional efforts to protect area water supplies and eliminate Great Western Reservoir as a primary water source. In 1989, Di Ciero dispatched crews to dig a diversion ditch to prevent water from Rocky Flats from getting into the reservoir. Those efforts were joined by surrounding downstream cities, such as Westminster and Thornton.
“That was a monumental effort and Broomfield, I would have to say, took the lead on it,” Joyce Hunt, Thornton assistant city manager, said of the diversion ditch and ensuing battle to curb pollution form Rocky Flats.
After that, with the support of Colorado Rep. David Skaggs and $52 million from Rocky Flats manager, the U.S. Department of Energy, Broomfield sold some of its water rights and bought an allotment of Windy Gap water from Boulder. After the construction of a pipeline from Windy Gap storage spot Carter Lake and a new water treatment facility near West 144th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, Broomfield at last had a clean, safe water supply.
“The new water supply was key to securing water for our future,” [Kirk Oglesby, Broomfield's code enforcement manager and unofficial town history resource] said.
While Broomfield is always looking for ways to firm up its water supply, the drought that struck Colorado in the mid-2000s demonstrated the city was prepared to handle shortages, Oglesby said. While neighbors Lafayette and Louisville were forced to stop lawn watering in the city limits or fall back on Boulder for support during the drought, Broomfield’s supplies held firm, Oglesby said, and the city “didn’t experience much difficulty at all.”