Sipping history: See Denver's oldest water pipes still in use that date back to 1881; 7 fun facts

Posted at 2:50 PM, Aug 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-01 17:52:43-04

DENVER — You might not know it, but the very water you drink, cook with and bathe in travels through history before it touches your lips, food and body. 

Denver Water, one of Colorado's largest water providers, runs thousands of miles of pipes serving millions of people, and it's been doing so since its creation in 1918 when the residents of Denver purchased one of many water companies battling to serve the growing city's residents. 

When purchased, the municipal organization became known as Denver Water, however the organization still maintains pipes laid all the way back to 1881. That's right — water flowing through the city still gushes through original pipe laid in the infancy of Colorado's statehood.

See a map of the oldest pipes below, and learn 7 interesting facts about Denver Water's oldest pipes.

1.) Denver Union Water Company is the start of Denver Water

As mentioned above, Denver Union Water Company turned into what we know as Denver Water today, but before becoming a municipal agency in 1918, it was one of many companies that fought for business as a private company. It, and its competitors, laid pipe beginning in the late 1800s.

2.)  Wood was formerly used as a material for pipes

Don't worry, all wood pipes were replaced in 1964, but as early as the 1880s, wood staves were a staple. Check out this photo below of the installation of a wood pipe in 1910, courtesy of Denver Water. Now, most pipes are made from PVC. 

Wood stave pipe installation on May 14, 1910.

3.) Old pipes dating back to 1881 are still in use

Just because a pipe is old doesn't mean it needs to be replaced. Denver's earliest pipes still in use — made from cast iron — don't need to be replaced yet, and likely won't any time soon. Although periodically, they will need repairing, they are anticipated to survive for hundreds of years. According to Denver Water officials, when these early pipes need repairs, it's frequently due to joints connecting the pipes, not the pipes themselves. 

4.) Least reliable pipes in the system laid post WWII

The post-war years were rough on the Denver Water pipe system. Pipes made in the '40s '50s and 60's were frequently made from inferior or poorly constructed metal pipes. They functioned for some time, but were prone to premature breaks. 

5.) Leak detection system helps Denver Water listen for leaks

Modern society relies on running water, but preventing gaps in service requires diligence. The Denver Water organization has a system that allows experts to listen for water leaks. According to officials, fixing these leaks early on helped save about 138 million gallons of water by 2014. 

6.) Pipes typically last up to 125 years

Imagine keeping track of a weaving web of 3,100 miles of pipe. That's what the Denver Water team monitors, repairs, replaces and adds to each year. The new pipes added are slated to last for about 125 years, but at least 75 years on average. 

7.) Over $10 million spent annually on replacing pipe.

About 13 miles of pipe are replaced each year based on breaks and preventative projects. 


Check out these general locations of Denver Water's oldest pipes in use still to this day. Each line of pipe was installed in 1881 and was created out of cast iron. 

In 1988 and in 1995, two of these pipe lines were rehabbed by adding a concrete coating to the pipe to extend its life. 

Learn more in the map below by tapping on the points that represent each pipe.