Unsupported Browser

We've detected an older browser version that will not give you the best experience while using The Atlas. Please consider revisitng this site after downloading one of the alternatives below.

Boulder Water Utility: Avoiding too much and too little water

City of Boulder

Boulder, CO

City of Boulder Water Utility and the City's community partners work together to provide local community-based water conservation services and establish and manage greenways to combat the City's challenges with both drought and flooding.

Topics Covered

Water Supply & Drought


Initial: 3 Million USD


General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Design-Build-Operate-Maintain Contracts

Project Status

Operational since 1992

Gov Champion

City of Boulder Public Works Department Utility Division

Problem Addressed

Boulder faces challenges from both droughts and floods given its semi-arid climate and location adjacent to Boulder Creek and its 14 tributaries.

Current conservation efforts were prompted by the 2002 drought, which was one of the most severe droughts in Western North America’s hydrologic records. Following this extreme drought, Boulder along with many other Colorado communities recognized the need for more formalized drought preparedness measures, of which water conservation is a key component. The Boulder area has also had a long history of flooding issues. In 1910, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. warned the city of the dangers of building upon the floodplain of Boulder Creek, and in 1969, Boulder experienced a moderate flood that cost $5 million in infrastructure repairs. More recently, the city incurred flooding in 2013 that prompted additional planning to prioritize flood mitigation efforts along the city’s major drainageways. As threats of droughts and floods in Boulder increase, Boulder’s Water Utility is collaborating with climate scientists and consultants to incorporate climate resilience into its water management strategies.

Solutions Used

Due to extreme droughts in the Colorado Basin area, Boulder has utilized local water conservation efforts to minimize the effects of extreme drought.

In contrast, to combat flooding, following drought periods, the City of Boulder and Boulder Water Utility have created greenways throughout the city and surrounding area that channel and capture large amounts of surface water.

Water Conservation

Boulder first began prioritizing water conservation in 1992 and increased these efforts after periods of severe drought in 2002. As the program has evolved, Boulder’s Water Utility has deepened the synergies between resources development and conservation through a suite of localized, community-based strategies to help residents and businesses reduce their water usage. In collaboration with Resource Central, a local nonprofit, Boulder’s Water Utility offers Boulder residents free irrigation consultations and landscaping seminars, Water-Wise garden kits and turf, and high-efficiency toilet replacement opportunities that also include free installation for income-qualified customers. For its commercial programs, Boulder’s Water Utility partners with outside organization Partners for a Clean Environment to provide free water conservation assessments, fixture upgrades, and employee training in water conservation practices. In 2004, the City Council boosted the program’s efforts by approving a block water budget rate structure designed to encourage water conservation. The water budget rate structure was further refined in the city’s 2018 budget. In 2010, Boulder updated its Drought Plan with mandatory drought response measures, including access to water budget tools to mitigate drought effects and providing real-time water use data to customers to drive household water use management.


Boulder’s stewardship extends beyond the built environment to the city’s important riparian areas that lessen the flooding impacts by providing multiple channels for flood water. Its Greenways Program combines flood management, riparian habitat, and community recreation through a series of corridors for biking and walking along Boulder Creek and its 14 major tributaries. The Greenways Program is administered by the Utilities Division of the City of Boulder’s Public Works Department. Utilities staff also work together with the Planning, Open Space and Mountain Parks, and Parks and Recreation Departments and the Transportation Division of the Public Works Department.



Water Resource Benefits: Boulder's water conservation efforts save households between 1,000 and 5,000 gallons of water per year, and equipment installs save businesses a total 7 mil gallons.


Environmental Benefits: The Greenways Program improves flood management and water quality, restores and preserves habitat, and provides erosion control and weed management.


Administrative Benefits: The Utilities Division’s integrated organizational structure fosters the success of its conservation program through economies of scale and reducing conflicts.

Who Should Consider

Communities that experience drought-flood cycles.

Last Updated

Jan 30th, 2020

More resources about this case study

More Local Gov Case Studies from The Atlas Database
The Atlas case study database features examples of city projects – including both earth-moving projects and installed technologies – from around the world. You will not find proposed projects, or links to research studies and planning documents. There are 500+ member submitted case studies to browse - see related case studies to this one below:
Browse All Case Studies