In the late 1800s and early 1900s, various private water companies fought, merged and collapsed while competing to deliver water to Denver residents. In 1918, Denver residents voted to buy the Denver Union Water Company and form the municipal agency now known as Denver Water. In doing so, voters created an entity that would operate independently from city government, thereby keeping water service separate from local politics.
The City of Denver’s charter states: There shall be and hereby is continued and created a non-political Board of Water Commissioners of five members, to have complete charge and control of a water works system and plant for supplying the City and County of Denver and its inhabitants with water for all uses and purposes.
This arrangement allows Denver Water to operate as an independent municipal governmental agency funded by water rates, new tap fees and the sale of hydropower. We are not funded by taxes. Denver Water is an enterprise under TABOR, which means we do not derive any revenue from taxes. Under Denver’s charter, all of our revenues go into the water works fund, and the money in the fund may not be used for any purpose other than the water system. This arrangement ensures separation between City Hall and Denver Water. Denver’s city government has no access to the water works fund, and Denver Water has no access to the city’s general fund. Both funds, however, are accounted for by the city’s auditor.
Our status as an independent municipal agency allows us to put every dollar we make toward building and maintaining a system that will deliver high-quality water every day. The Board of Water Commissioners, appointed by Denver’s mayor, oversees our work and accounts for our spending.
Denver residents were ahead of their time in the early 1900s when they elected to form an independent municipal water utility that wouldn’t be damaged by turbulent election cycles or expensive lobbying efforts; instead, the voters created an agency that would put all of its efforts and revenue toward delivering something we need every single day: water.