Left Hand Creek Watershed
Located just 3 miles north of Boulder, Colorado, in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the 76-square-mile Left Hand Creek Watershed is a hidden gem with unique historical, recreational, and ecological resources.
Left Hand Creek is an important water source for the community, as it serves as the primary source of drinking water for 20,000 customers of the Left Hand Water District, as well as a source of irrigation water for farmers and ranchers.
Left Hand Creek Master Plan
Initial responses to the September 2013 flood that impacted Left Hand Creek along with several other South Platte tributaries along the Front Range focused on issues of immediate health and safety such as rescue, transportation, stabilization of property, and clearing debris from the channel.
Later, the realization that long-term restoration of a healthy watershed would require additional steps to be made in a coordinated manner led the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to organize long-term master planning coalitions for the flooded creeks.
Left Hand Creek History
The 28-mile-long watershed carries more water than it would in its natural state, thanks to Colorado’s historic first inter-basin transfer, the Left Hand Ditch. First dug in 1861, this diversion brings water from South St. Vrain Creek to James Creek, a Left Hand Creek tributary, just west of the town of Ward.
The legal conflict arising from this diversion led to the 1882 Colorado Supreme Court decision known as Coffin et al. v. Left Hand Ditch Company, a landmark case that firmly established the prior appropriation doctrine (“first in time, first in right”) as the basis of Colorado water law.
Draining a portion of the Colorado Mineral Belt, the watershed was heavily impacted by the mining boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hundreds of former mining sites dot the area, a testament to the perseverance and ingenuity of the early miners. The mining sites also left a legacy of acid mine drainage and associated metals contamination, providing a challenge for LWOG and other entities to restore and protect water quality.