Department

Chips Barry: Water Wrangler

Denver enjoys some of the nation's cleanest drinking water, thanks to Hamlet "Chips" J. Barry III, manager of Denver Water for the past 17 years. Here, the 64-year-old Denver native and Theodore Roosevelt look-alike expounds on family, global warming, and water usage in the West.

September 2008

My real name is Hamlet J. Barry III. I'm two chips off the old block. I have had to live with this forever.

In 2001, my wife and I had a really bad car wreck. We were coming back from skiing on the west side of Kenosha Pass and we hit black ice and a 50 mph crosswind at the same time. Off the road, down the embankment, rolling two and a half times. I got airlifted to St. Anthony's, and I'm lucky to be here. I had a basal skull fracture. I broke my back, although that wasn't so bad. I had to wear a brace for a few months, and lost my right eye, my right ear, and my right inner ear.

There is no wishing this and wishing that; you just have got to go forward.

I don't think there is any question that global climate change is real. There is plenty of evidence that the world is getting warmer. The problem is that nobody knows what a warmer climate does to the pattern and volume of precipitation.

I fear that people think we're moving from climate A to climate B. The fact is that we may be moving from climate A to a continuously shifting climate. It's not like we're going to reach a point and then we'll know what the new climate will be. It's a shifting target. About the time that we figure out what the shift is, it shifts again.

People need to pay attention to how much water they are putting on their grass and their garden. It's really hard to prove, but my guess is 25 or 30 percent of the water put on lawns and gardens isn't necessary. It's more water than the plants need.

The old tradition of grass from fence to fence is silly. You want a place where your kids can play? Fine—have a patch of grass in the middle of the backyard—but also have shrubs and garden and trees.

Unless we're in the middle of a drought, I don't want to lecture people. They don't want a sermon about water use.

We're dealing with downstream states to which we have to deliver water. If you're California, you don't have to worry about who's downstream—it's the Pacific Ocean. If you're here, you owe water to Nebraska and Kansas and states downstream like California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Denver Water has to serve everybody in the city and county. We don't have any legal obligation to serve anyone beyond. That's one of my big problems—we don't have a legal obligation, but we might have a moral and a political obligation. If Aurora runs out of water, we don't have to do anything—but would we do nothing?

We are engaged right now in a huge mediation effort with the Western Slope. One of the often discussed solutions is something called Green Mountain pumpback and Wolcott Reservoir. It's not a plan yet, but it's an idea. There is probably enough water there to take care of Aurora and Douglas County and other needs for 25 or 30 years. If you do that, plus recycling and conservation, that probably takes care of most of the Front Range for a generation.