The South Platte River once supported the growth of an entire region. Cities and civilization all along the river’s shoreline sprang up, igniting the West’s development. Now, everything from shopping malls to fields of corn relies on the water in the South Platte River. Today, the South Platte Basin is tasked to support over 2.8 million people in a three-state area—and roughly 95 percent of those people live in Colorado. This is largest population density in the Rocky Mountain region and has led to the overuse of the crucial South Platte water supply.
But the communities that have used, and at times severely depleted, the resource are now working to restore it and bring the river back to health.
It was announced last week that Denver Water, with help from Colorado Parks and Wildlife has obtained the rights to an additional 2,100 acre-feet of water that will be stored in Chatfield Reservoir and will be released downstream during times of low flow. The additional water will address the river's fishery and the populations of trout.
With the additional flows during low water periods, the water temperature will remain lower and deeper pools will be created, allowing a more hospitable environment for rainbow trout.
Increasing water flows is just one step of many that has been done to help revive the river. The Denver Trout Unlimited Chapter has been working on restoring the South Platte for many years. The chapter has recently installed water temperature sensors from Chatfield Reservoir upstream through Downtown Denver and all the way to Commerce City. These monitors will allow the chapter and agencies to see how the sometimes unreliable flows affect the temperature of the South Platte and influence the fishery.
The river also benefits from the CarpSlam- an annual fundraiser that focuses on anglers catching carp through Denver. The funds raised by the CarpSlam go directly towards the South Platte and restoring the health of the river. Over the years, the CarpSlam has resulted in anglers catching Carp, Walleye, Bass, and Trout in a river that some believe isn't able to hold a healthy population of fish.
Projects like Stream Explorers have also helped the South Platte by teaching students about the river and how it is used for both human and aquatic needs. Learning how a city can impact the health of a river and how the river plays such a vital role to our way of life is important to teach to the next generation of river stewards.
Through all of these initiatives by Denver TU, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Denver Water, the South Platte River is returning to a healthy river. One that not only provides water for municipal uses but one that offers enough cool, clean water for a healthy population of trout and other fish species.