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South Platte River to get $350M restoration

The project will focus primarily on restoring the ecosystem and improving the flood risk for certain areas.

DENVER — Colorado leaders announced $350 million dollars in federal funds for the Denver and Adams County South Platte River Project on Friday.

Director of Government Relations for the Mile High Flood District David Bennetts said restoring and improving the ecosystem is the main goal of this project. 

"It's going to completely transform the river and all of the adjacent areas with some ecosystem restoration projects," he said.

Right now the South Platte River needs a lot of work. 

"We have invasive species on the trees. We have trash buried in the banks. It's not a healthy environment for birds, for anything else," Bennetts said. "So, this is a chance to go back and tune up old improvements, to make new improvements and to really address the health of the river, the access of the river for people who want to use it, trails, bike paths, parks, things like that. Also take care of some flood risk in a few areas where we’re having some spills."

He said the funding will focus primarily on restoring the ecosystem along 6.5 miles of the South Platte River and creating 450 acres of wetlands.

"Birds move from Mexico to Canada up and down the Platte River," Bennetts said. "So, enhancing that will really improvement their habitats and give them a better place to be when they’re traveling and migrating through."

But, memories of the 1965 flood along this very river is still in the back of Bennetts' mind.  

"Really the thought at that time was to get the flood waters through the city as fast as we possibly could and in doing so we really didn't take care of the ecosystem as well as we should have," he said.

The flood in 1965 killed about 20 people and pushed water into local neighborhoods. 

Scenes from the 1965 flood

Dams have since been built, but Bennetts said there's still a 1% chance in some areas of having a flooding event. 

This funding will address flood prone areas along Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch. He said there are about 350 structures in Weir Gulch they want to take out of the flood plain. 

The intent is to build improvements and not displace people, but Bennetts said they're not sure if that will be possible just yet.

Credit: City and County of Denver

"No matter what you build there's always chance of an event that will top it," he said. "We are doing flood risk improvements along the South Platte River as well, as part of this, but the primary focus on the Platte is ecosystem."

He said preliminary work has been ongoing and more projects will be starting soon. 

"The funding is good for as long as it takes, but the intent is to fully implement all of the work in the next 5 to 10 years," Bennetts said.

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