From the Rockies to the Plains …
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The Colorado may be our state’s namesake river, but the the South Platte is the workhorse, draining most of the Front Range, coursing through urban Denver and spreading out into great trickling braids to sustain prairie farms and ranches.
This week, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s last river tour of the year (July 10-12) will explore the South Platte, staring in Berthoud and at Cameron Pass and ranging as far as Nebraska and Wyoming.
From the earliest days, the river of the plains has figured prominently in Colorado history, as a pathway for the early French and Spanish explorers who were part of that era’s geopolitical maneuverings in the New World. The Native Americans of the region, of course had a long-standing association with the river and their own name for it — the Niinéniiniicíihéhe’.
In 1702, it was named the Rio Jesus Maria by the commander of a Spanish expeditionary force, but the name didn’t stick, and it was left to the French trappers and fur traders to give the river its current name, descriptive of the gentle, wide stream as it flows through northeastern Colorado.
Later, the river was the focal point for the Colorado gold rush and the development of Denver as Colorado’s main metropolitan center.
The South Platte is doesn’t have a chance to flow freely along very much of its route. The first dam, just a few miles from the river’s headwaters in Park County, forms Antero Reservoir, quickly followed by Spinney Mountain Reservoir, and Eleven Mile Reservoir just two miles farther downstream. Next comes Cheeseman Reservoir, held by what was the world’s tallest dam at completion in 1905, Strontia Springs Reservoir and Chatfield Reservoir, marking the seventh and final impoundment along the river’s mainstem.
The biggest reservoir planned for the South Platte, Two Forks, was never built, as the EPA vetoed the plan in 1990, calling it an environmental catastrophe.
The South Platte is now at the heart of Colorado’s effort to somehow rethink the way water is managed in the face of a future made uncertain by climate change. The CFWE tour will focus on some of those issues, including impacts of the 2012 High Park Fire, Wyoming’s commitment to the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and Strategies for long-term water supply planning and management.