Opinion by Tom Anthony
Denver has only one river, although it seems like more since we have the “Confluence.” That's where Cherry Creek meets the Platte, along with Outdoor America's coolest shopping experience at REI in the old Tramway powerhouse building.
The Platte River Greenway advanced the urban quality of life almost as much as streaming Netflix, and pre-dates that breakthrough by about forty years. While the Platte is still used as a sewer and storm drain at least the sewage is mostly treated and the storms have been infrequent of late. Prior to the involvement of the Greenway commission and the late Joe Shoemaker virtually nobody but the Corps of Engineers paid attention to the Platte. This was due to basic physics: old tires rolled downhill, the river was at the bottom of the hill, kids loved to see old tires roll downhill, and by keeping the river bottom as the state's longest tire disposal yard nobody seemed to care that much what the slaughterhouses, smelters, and sewage treatment plants in Globeville and Elyria were doing.
Twenty years after Monfort built the Greeley meatpacking business and Swift, Cudahy, Armour, Wilson and Sigman's closed their doors on Denver for the last time, someone realized the Metro Wastewater Plant had moved downstream a ways and make North Side Treatment into a park. And, meanwhile, the sport of cycling had climbed onto the back of the titanium frame and Shimano derailleurs to introduce fitness aficionados to the smell of treated sewage.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and the Age of Global Warming and a few folks are just now gaining awareness that the Platte River Greenway has no dedicated water flow. North of the Burlington Ditch what water sits in the channel of the Platte seeps in from the claystone formation above the Denver Aquifer. Trout Unlimited has been participating in the annual “Carp Slam” since 2006, but it's the drought of 2012 that has slammed the carp so badly that only two teams caught more than two fish. So what's the government doing about it? Some junior water rights holders have convinced the Corps of Engineers to divert more water from the Platte River Channel at the Chatfield Reservoir by converting it to a water detention site for use by Douglas County to fuel more sprawling real estate development.
In these tough economic times you might wonder who's forking over the $185 million to make Chatfield State Park into a mudflat sump for the McMansionaires. Since there is no guarantee that the new storage capacity will actually hold water from the junior rights owned by the developers, 60% of the cost to John Q. Public is being forgiven at the outset. Then, if a spate of dry years ensues, the junior rights for which the capacity is being created will have produced no value and the developers will have to default. No matter what happens, Denverites will be paying to remove water from the Platte River Greenway.
Does it have to be this way? Interestingly, it turns out sufficient water storage capacity exists in Adams County to allow this same water to flow through Denver's Greenway before being captured in a “round robin” water exchange. Chatfield can remain exactly as it is and Denver will get a dedicated water flow in the Platte River Channel while the developers build and sell on their existing premise: that there is still no guarantee of water for their clientele.