South Platte River Heroes

Op-Ed: Prudent use of water and cooperation remain a community responsibility

The spectacular attributes of Denver make it a magnificent place to live and raise families and do business. But it's an arid place. Prudent use of water, cooperation and planning for the future has built our community and remains a constant responsibility.

Most of this year, until recently, the mountains that provide Denver’s water supply experienced dry conditions. And portions of the South Platte River were closed in July to protect the habitat and aquatic life, due to low river flow conditions. Most of the past 18 years have seen below-average precipitation across the state and in the South Platte basin; it has been a wake-up call on the potential impact of long-term drying of the fishery and agriculture of our region. 

Our community has come together to solve this problem. When the long overdue re-allocation of storage space in Chatfield Reservoir is completed in late 2019, after decades of studies and hearings, it will not only provide an expanded regional water supply and new recreation opportunities but also a 2,100-acre feet (AF) environmental pool of water specifically for release down the South Platte River and though the city. This water will then be available seasonally in dry periods and during inevitable periods of sustained drought. It will help keep our river healthy and viable. 

Important partners helped give life to this project. Part of this effort was led by The Greenway Foundation, which raised money for 250-acre feet of the conservation pool from 19 municipalities, individuals and other groups. Denver Water then matched that with funding for an additional 250-acre feet. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has pledged funding for a further 600 acre-feet, followed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife agreeing to fund a massive 1,000-acre feet of this space inside Chatfield reservoir.  


As a landowner creating a 21st century community for residents, many of whom are not yet born, and a conservation organization that supports innovative solutions to meet the most pressing natural resource challenges, this level of environmental stewardship exemplifies why the Front Range remains one of the finest places in the world to live. We must commend the people for bringing this vision to life.    

This and other innovative solutions – like recycling water, greater municipal conservation and voluntary and compensated agreements with agricultural water users – will require new sources of public funding to secure the state’s water future.

Our future is worth the investment.

Broad environmental cooperation is vital to the responsible use of our state’s resources. We need to honor this effort as a model for future constructive cooperation that has, and always will, shape our western lifestyle.

Rob Harris is an attorney for Western Resource Advocates, a regional conservation organization that protects the West’s land, air, and water.

Harold Smethills is founding owner of Sterling Ranch, a community known for its water and lifestyle sustainability and modern technology.

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