Jim Lochhead’s legacy stretches across decades
Denver Water leader leaves organization, community prepared for future challenges.
A towering figure. Innovative. Creative. A champion. A mentor.
Those are just some of the words used to describe Jim Lochhead, the CEO/Manager of Denver Water who is stepping down on Aug. 4, 2023, from that role after leading the state’s largest water provider for 13 years.
Jim Lochhead’s career reached beyond Denver Water:
“The accomplishments of Denver Water under Jim’s leadership since 2010 have been truly remarkable,” said Craig Jones, the president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners.
In December 2022, Lochhead announced his intention to step away from leading the utility responsible for providing a reliable, safe water supply to about 25% of Colorado’s population.
“He strengthened our operational efficiencies, while leading a new era of cooperation for water in the West, ensuring a reliable water system and securing future water supplies for the Denver metropolitan area,” Jones said.
Lochhead will be missed, both inside Denver Water and beyond, according to those who worked with him on Denver Water projects, on initiatives linking water, education and agriculture, and on efforts to address challenges related to the drought-stricken Colorado River and a warming climate.
“Jim set us up well to meet the challenges of the future. He left a legacy, and we are indebted to him for his visionary leadership. He will be missed at Denver Water, across the community he served, and by the people he worked with in Colorado and across the West,” said Julie Anderson, Denver Water’s chief of staff.
His work prepared Denver Water for the future:
Lochhead has worked for decades on issues surrounding water — a critical natural resource and the subject of decadeslong battles in courtrooms and policy arenas from California to Washington, D.C.
He was already a well-known and respected water attorney, living in Glenwood Springs on Colorado’s West Slope, when Gov. Roy Romer tapped him in 1994 to head the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Lochhead remained at that post until 1998.
“Jim came highly recommended, and the thing I liked about him was he was able to listen very hard and very well,” Romer said.
“He had the capacity of standing in another's shoes, of knowing from whence you speak, and that's a gift.”
Lochhead is known for his expertise on issues surrounding the Colorado River, which provides about half of Denver Water’s water supply and is crucial to the lives of 40 million people living across the Southwest that rely on the river for drinking water and electricity.
Hear Lochhead talk about the Colorado River:
“Jim loves the Colorado River. I think it is in his essence. Everything he does is focused on making sure the river is going to be OK,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado’s Commissioner and representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission that’s charged with negotiating policy surrounding use of the water in the river.
“He understands that we’re better if we are unified — not only unified as a state, but unified as an entire river basin,” Mitchell said.
Join Lochhead on a video journey down the Colorado River:
John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority that serves Las Vegas, said Lochhead’s leadership and knowledge influenced the policy decisions that have governed the Colorado River over the years.
And more recently, Entsminger said, Lochhead reached out to suggest two work together to expand the authority’s existing efforts to conserve water by replacing water-intensive Kentucky bluegrass where possible in Las Vegas.
“He reached out to a number of utilities in Colorado. I talked to some people in California and Arizona, and ultimately we came up with over 30 municipalities that have now essentially taken the pledge to remove a lot of nonfunctional turf. And that was all Jim’s idea,” Entsminger said.
Tony Frank, the chancellor of the Colorado State University System, said that, in Lochhead, he found a partner who helped create the new CSU Spur campus on the grounds of the National Western Center in north Denver.
The Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus now houses Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, replacing an outdated facility at the utility’s Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver.
“He was a thought leader and innovative partner in envisioning how this campus could become a game-changing force in water research and education, not just for Colorado and the West, but for people and communities worldwide that are wrestling with the same issues and challenges,” Frank said.
During his 13 years at Denver Water, Lochhead championed a wide range of initiatives, including:
- The expansion of Gross Reservoir northwest of Denver.
- The replacement of tens of thousands of old lead service lines to protect customers from the risk of lead in drinking water.
- The redevelopment of the utility’s century-old Operations Complex southwest of downtown Denver.
- The construction of the state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant north of Golden.
- The ongoing work to improve and maintain infrastructure throughout the system.
And like many leaders, Lochhead led his organization through challenges no one expected, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in 2020.
“When the pandemic happened, Jim really put our customers and our employees at the forefront of everything that we did. We did not miss a beat. And that in and of itself is a testament to Jim’s leadership,” said Angela Bricmont, Denver Water chief financial officer.
“He’s really left a legacy for Denver Water — and for all our customers — for the next 100 years.”
The board announced in June that Alan Salazar would take over the role from Lochhead. Salazar, most recently the chief of staff for former Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, has more than 30 years of experience in the public sector, working in both the legislative and executive branches of federal, state and local governments.
Lochhead spoke highly of the board’s decision, noting he’d worked with Salazar for more than 30 years in various roles.
“I’ve always admired his integrity, his deep policy knowledge and his commitment to public service, which has positioned him as one of the great leaders in this state,” Lochhead said of the June announcement.