Denver, Colorado: the city by the river.
OK, nobody has ever actually said that. Denver isn’t known as “a river town,” like some other U.S. cities.
But Denver does have a storied history with one river in particular: the South Platte. After all, it’s where the city was founded. Since then, the South Platte has been an important water source, a unique recreational amenity and occasionally, a devastating force of nature.
But it also has had a number of environmental and water quality challenges. So when Denver Water saw an opportunity to improve the overall environment of the river, particularly through the Denver Metro area, we jumped at the chance.
“Having a healthy, vibrant river running through our city offers so many benefits,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “It helps the environment, encourages recreation and ultimately supports agricultural interests downstream. We all benefit from a healthy South Platte River.”
That’s the goal of an agreement between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. As part of the mitigation portion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project — a project allowing the flood-control reservoir to store additional water supply — the two agencies will create an environmental pool of water at Chatfield, to increase the South Platte’s flows through metro Denver.
The agreement originally designated 1,600 acre-feet of reservoir storage for the pool, with room for expansion. And thanks to a unique — and successful — pledge drive between Denver Water and The Greenway Foundation, that pool will be expanding.
The pledge drive, announced by The Greenway Foundation in August of 2016, successfully reached its goal of matching Denver Water’s commitment of nearly $2 million to purchase 250 acre-feet of environmental storage in Chatfield Reservoir, for a total of 500 additional acre-feet in the environmental pool.
“The Greenway Foundation has championed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance stream flows in the South Platte River as a model of innovative water management practices,” said Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of The Greenway Foundation. “By participating in the environmental pool, the metro Denver water community has recognized the lasting impact that increased stream flows will have for the future of our South Platte River.”
The 500 acre-foot environmental pool will be owned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The water rights to fill the pool will come from Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which will also fund the operations and maintenance of the pool and capture and use the water for agricultural purposes downstream of Denver.
“With Weld County being one of the largest agricultural producing counties in the United States, participating in the Chatfield Environmental pool will result in more downstream water for our Weld County farmers and agricultural producers,” said Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner and chair of the South Platte Roundtable.
The environmental pool will be operational after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project. The flows will be released through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s fish hatchery at Chatfield Reservoir into the South Platte River, ultimately benefitting the environment and recreation along the urban corridor through Adams, Arapahoe, Denver and Weld counties.
“Nearly all great cities are located along, and defined by, a major waterway,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “Denver is no exception. The South Platte River is a central feature of our landscape, and we are committed to keeping it flowing throughout the year for the benefit and enjoyment of all of our residents.”
To see a list of all 19 pledge drive participants and to learn more, visit The Water Connection.