River’s facelift going forward

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The workflow continues on the South Platte River, with the next phase of improvements set to begin in January.

“We’re trying to get it to be more of a creek inside a river,” explained Ben Nielsen of McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, which is consulting on the project.

The first phase, the portion of the river that runs through South Platte Park, wrapped up in June at a cost of $880,000. Features were added to create a more meandering path in some places, and the banks were stabilized. The river was narrowed from 100 feet across to 40, in turn deepening it. All the enhancements were designed to maintain flood protection while improving the living conditions for fish and other wildlife.

The same will occur in phase two, from the Meadowood mobile-home community upstream to South Platte Park, at an expected cost of $1.1 million. The third and last phase, from Mineral Avenue upstream to C-470, should start in November of next year and cost $2.6 million.

Arapahoe County and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District are the major funders, but they’re joined by the cities of Littleton and Englewood, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and South Suburban Parks and Recreation District. The goal is to cure ailments caused by the construction of Chatfield Dam, built after the major flood in 1965.

The once-rushing flow of the river is now controlled by the release of water from Chatfield Reservoir. This lowered the water level, resulting in a shallower river too narrow for its banks. It also straightened the Platte’s course and, because water from Chatfield is free of sediment, created perfect conditions for excessive erosion. This threatens the trees and other vegetation on the river’s banks. All in all, the Platte is a much less attractive environment for wildlife than before the dam existed.

“A natural-based restoration approach was taken for proposed improvements whenever possible,” reads a report prepared by Ecological Resource Consultants Inc., which designed the project. “The guiding principle of the natural-restoration approach is that an enhanced stream system should mimic a natural channel in appearance and function. Re-creating the natural form and function within the stream system will allow lost natural balance to be restored.”

A separate project is in the works for north of Littleton, which will create a “mini-Confluence Park” between Oxford and Union avenues. It could feature kayaking, surfing, tubing and wading, and be accessible to the disabled. The South Platte Working Group is still rounding up money for it, but assuming all goes well, construction should start in winter of next year.

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