Tag Archives: South Platte River

South Platte Bike Tour June 2017


The 2017 Urban Waters Bike Tour started at Johnson Habitat Park and ended at Globeville Landing Park.

Each year, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education leads an urban waters bike tour through Denver. This tour is open to water professionals and citizens alike to learn about the South Platte Watershed and what is being done to make the 8-mile stretch of the river more user-friendly.  On my first day as a Colorado Foundation for Water Education intern, I was able to participate in the 2017 bike tour, offered by CFWE in partnership with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and the Colorado Stormwater Council. We started at Johnson Habitat Park and ended at Globeville Landing Park, with a few stops in between, where we heard from multiple guest speakers about the health of the South Platte, opportunities for recreation, and current and upcoming projects along the river.

At Johnson Habitat Park, we heard from the executive director of The Greenway Foundation, Jeff Shoemaker. Shoemaker spoke about the days when the river was ecologically dead, especially at that specific location because it used to be a dump so the water was heavily polluted, and no fish were present in the water. In 1974, The Greenway Foundation started to clean up the pollution and restore the riparian environment by using rocks and plants to create a more natural, less urban setting. Today there are many cold water species such as carp and rainbow trout that not only live in the South Platte, but thrive in it. For The Greenway Foundation, the main focus in recent years has been restoring and creating riverfront parks along the South Platte to provide areas for recreation and learning opportunities for children. In addition, we heard from Scott Schreiber, a stream restoration engineer at Matrix Design Group who also serves as president of the Denver Trout Unlimited (DTU) chapter. Schreiber spoke about water quality and maintaining a healthy river. There are about 70 days out of the year when no water flows through the South Platte, which is of concern because the more water that is present in the river, the healthier it will be. In order, to address this problem, DTU negotiated with Denver Water to release 10 acre-feet on those no-flow days.

We then pedal our bicycles along the South Platte River to our first stop at Weir Gulch, where we heard from Jill Piatt-Kemper with the City of Aurora. Jill spoke about ways that the cities of Denver, Lakewood, and Aurora are working together to ensure that they handle stormwater properly, as it can be a source of pollution for the South Platte. Pavement and concrete increase the rate at which runoff from storms reach the river, and the water picks up pollution from parking lots or roads it flows through, depositing that pollution into the river. Piatt-Kemper’s work aims to keep water away from homes so that storms and flooding cause minimal property damage, create a habitat for wildlife


Tour participants learn about stormwater at Weir Gulch.

along the riparian zone, and filter the runoff using grass. Filtering runoff is important because fish can’t survive when nutrient levels are too high in the river. The excess nutrients cause more plants to grow, therefore increasing the biological oxygen demand (BOD). An increase in BOD means that the plants are using all of the oxygen in the water, starving the fish of oxygen.  The grass along the riparian zone will filter these nutrients out, use the nutrients to grow, and deliver fresh water to the river.

Our next stop was at Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park. There, we heard from Mike


Mike Bouchard with the City and County of Denver describing the reconstruction of Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park.

Bouchard who is a landscape architect with the City and County of Denver. Bouchard spoke about the reconstruction of Shoemaker Plaza and the history of Confluence Park which is where the city of Denver first started. In the early years, parts of the South Platte and Cherry Creek were used as the city’s sewer and dump, and became channelized as a result of urbanization. In 1965, a flood drowned the city and caused millions of dollars in damage. As a result, Chatfield Reservoir was built, making areas along the South Platte safe and accessible again. In order to increase river access, Denver started construction on Shoemaker Plaza in 1974. In spring 2016, reconstruction started to make the plaza larger and more user-friendly as the area is seeing more use. However, two months into the project, workers found coal tar, a byproduct of energy production. They had to stop construction in order to clean up


Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence Park is under construction to improve river accessibility.

all of the coal tar to ensure that it did not make its way into the water. The site is now clean and construction can continue to create a place where people today and future generations will be able to come and enjoy Colorado’s most precious resource.

Our last stop was Globeville Landing Park where we heard from Celia Vanderloop from the City and County of Denver. Celia spoke about the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative Project in the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are historically poor and have been neglected. This project will create a water feature that will hold water during large rain events in order to control flooding and give access to a green space, restore walkability, water quality, and water accessibility. Part of this project is to clean up the Superfund site near the Denver Coliseum.

As Denver continues to urbanize, there is an increased environmental impact. The challenge is to integrate having a thriving city and a thriving environment. Denver has done a great job in ensuring that the balance is met and that everyone has access to a green space or park where their children can explore and appreciate nature in our beautiful state.

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Events, Water Quality

This week’s South Platte Forum & Flood Fundraiser

The annual South Platte Forum is coming up later this week. There’s still time to register and learn the ins and outs of the South Platte Basin. Think you can make it? Or maybe just one evening? On October 23, there will be a Colorado Flood Fundraiser and Silent Auction. Registration for the fundraiser is free and hosted by the Colorado Water Congress POND Committee. Attend for an evening of fun and sharing of information with all proceeds donated to the Red Cross— Colorado Flood Fund and the Colorado Farm Bureau– Disaster Fund. SPForum2013_EventFlyer

Interested in the conference? Find the agenda below: Continue reading

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Events

Where will our next ditch come from and who will fill it?

By Jane Earle

From a small item put into the Community Relations budget at Denver Water 10 years ago has come Patricia Limerick’s book, “A Ditch in Time.” On the title page of the book, Professor Limerick notes a financial contribution made by Denver Water to support a graduate student’s research, but the real contribution was the idea that the story of how water came to Denver might be worth telling.
It wasn’t my idea but it was my budget. Charlie Jordan, the innovative, strategic thinker who re-made the agency’s image after Two Forks, was the Director of Public Affairs and my immediate supervisor at Denver Water. At budget time, he came to me and told me to put a line into my budget to fund the writing of a history of Denver Water.
I followed orders but not without an argument. It was a pattern. If Charlie was the shaper of Denver Water’s new image, I, as Manager of Community Relations, was its fierce defender. Any time anyone proposed to do anything that might get public attention, I gave the idea intense scrutiny before signing on. I was perhaps a little too ardent in my protective efforts; after one of our struggles over a proposed new project, Charlie said to me, “You have told me ‘no’ on this three times.” Not wanting to lose the job I loved so much, I gave up. Charlie was right, of course, and it turned out well.
The book turned out well, too, but it took a while and a few turns in the road. The first turn was nearly fatal as the history funding fell to the budget axe. The late Joe Shoemaker, who was a member of the Board at that time, quickly disposed of our plan to have a history of Denver Water written. Commissioner Shoemaker didn’t much like public relations in any of its guises and he had honed his skills at cutting budgets in the Colorado State Legislature as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. The history was history.
Boards change, even the Board of Water Commissioners. Members come and members go and Sen. Shoemaker left to do other things. The line went back in the budget and, backed by Chips Barry, then Manager of Denver Water, it was passed by the Board. This time, the proposal was to ask Patricia Limerick, Colorado’s prestigious MacArther fellowship winning historian, to write the history. And that was my idea. This time, it was Charlie who was incredulous. After all, Professor Limerick was not always kind to the white builders in her history of the West, “The Legacy of Conquest.” But that was why I wanted her: No one could accuse Denver Water of commissioning a coffee table book about the glories of its past if Patricia Limerick was the author. Chips was beguiled by the idea. The rest is history, as they say. This time, literally.
Professor Limerick doesn’t call her book a history of Denver Water. She subtitles it, “The City, the West, and Water.” It’s well named. She has set the story of some of the major events in the development of Denver’s water system in their proper geographic and historic context. The contributions of the people who built the water system and their legacy are stories that needed to be told. They were men of vision who could imagine a great city on the treeless plain next to the (mostly dry) South Platte River.
In “A Ditch in Time,” as always, Professor Limerick presents not only what was but posits a number of what might-have-beens. One of the most interesting sections of the book is the conclusion or “Turning Hindsight into Foresight” where she discusses “Mistaken Assumptions” one through five and offers an alternative scenario to each. She challenges such well fixed ideas that water utilities can control population growth through the water supply, or lack thereof; the Jeffersonian idea that there is something; inherently more virtuous in the agrarian population than there is in the urban and even takes a swing at Mark Twain’s pithy observation, sacred to every Colorado citizen, that “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.” The alternatives she offers are, as always, thoughtful, based on solid research and wisdom and at least worth a try. If we are to have water visionaries in the future to protect and provide this vital resource for the next generation, they could do worse than to study Patricia Limerick’s conclusions and especially her alternatives. Who will those people be and what will the water future to which they lead us look like?
Jane Earle was Manager of Community Relations for Denver Water for 10 years. She is currently a freelance writer in Denver.


Filed under Book Club, Water 2012