Q&A with Brad Evans

Advocate urges cleanup of South Platte River

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/23/19

Brad Evans holds the title of founder of Denver Cruisers, a group of people who ride their bikes together through Denver monthly, and the creator of the Facebook group Denver Fugly — a popular …

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Q&A with Brad Evans

Advocate urges cleanup of South Platte River

Posted

Brad Evans holds the title of founder of Denver Cruisers, a group of people who ride their bikes together through Denver monthly, and the creator of the Facebook group Denver Fugly — a popular Facebook page that gives residents a chance to chime in on development in the Denver metro area.

Now, he is playing another role as the South Platte River Waterkeeper. He was chosen for the position from the Water Keeper Alliance, a global movement that unites over 300 waterkeeper groups. The Water Keeper Alliance focuses on citizen action on issues that impact waterways, including pollution and climate change.

The South Platte River is a source of water for Denver, and part of it runs through Englewood and Littleton. Evans fielded questions from Colorado Community Media about his new role.

Tell me about your role as the South Platte River waterkeeper.

As the “Waterkeeper” for the South Platte River, my primary role is to organize, educate and litigate. I am also responsible for championing change and building coalitions to fight pollution and protect this watershed in its urban context. The core goal of this Waterkeeper is to ensure that the South Platte River, as it winds its way through Denver, is drinkable, fishable, and swimmable. That’s a huge task, and we’re nowhere close to these “simple” goals today. Enter the South Platte River Waterkeeper.

What kind of work are you already doing as the Waterkeeper?

The South Platte River Waterkeeper was approved at the end of October of 2019 by the Waterkeeper Alliance Board. After our charter was approved, I’ve set out on a listening tour, learning about the state of the river as it is today, its historical role in Denver and how to define what role this globally backed organization can play in creating a healthy and vital waterway for those that live, work and play in Denver Metro. Setting a vision requires more than just jumping in, so this first year will be all about figuring out where this organization fits into the picture, building alliances and public awareness as to the state of the river. Key to what we will be doing in 2020 is creating the vision for how this Waterkeeper will support the South Platte River. Our website is under construction at www.southplatteriverwaterkeeper.org.

How did you get involved with the  Waterkeeper Alliance?

I’ve been working with the Zeppelin Family Foundation in search of a way to bring a larger and more robust voice to the table for the South Platte River, and the idea of creating yet another “local” group to weigh in on what’s going on with the South Platte River was a non-starter. We explored how we could engage with already existing environmental groups that were talking about the river, but there were almost none that hadn’t already been bought out what I call the “Sewer Pipe Mafia.” Plus, there were already a plethora of other entities claiming to be part of the “solution,” but seemed to be fine with the status quo. After several meetings about how to bring a Waterkeeper Alliance chapter to Denver, it all fell into place. There had long been a desire to create a Waterkeeper for the South Platte, and I’m a well-known “starter,” who was willing to jump feet first into the fray. Once we rolled the rock down the hill, it started to gather momentum, and that’s where we are at this juncture. It’s exciting to see how much potential there is to be an active voice for this river, and how much interest already exists for creating a vibrant space for this crucial watershed.

Why is this something that you want to do?

Having worked as a transportation advocate for the better part of the last decade, the idea of creating a strong and powerful voice for the South Platte River seemed like a natural transition. We still have a ton of work to do for creating a multi-modal transportation network, but without clean air and water, it won’t matter how well a transportation system is operating, if we’ve poisoned all the water we’re supposed to be drinking. I think what’s been weighing on my mind over the last few years as metro Denver has mushroomed with growth, is the simple fact that we live at the base of the majestic Rocky Mountains, and with all this growth and increased population, we’re trashing what was pristine land, air and water — which has been a cherished asset for generations, and brought all of us here in the first place.

Clean water and clean air are the key ingredients of what has been part of an unparalleled quality of life for generations of Coloradoans — and has been part of my entire life here in Colorado. Having grown up in Boulder, and as a longtime Denver resident, what I’ve come to realize is that our water and air isn’t going to protect itself. The attraction to the Waterkeeper Alliance is their 50-plus-year history of fighting the good fight and creating win-win solutions for both citizens and industry to coexist. This seemed like the right move for Denver, and for me to be part of bringing others to the table to challenge the status quo and be champion for clean water. What’s in our water, and where it’s coming from is something that we’ve taken for granted as Denver has grown, and for far too long, allowed industrial and environmental waste and pollution to seep into our rivers and water supply. Who is that good for? And why have we been ok with it? I think that’s primarily what attracted me to be part of the launch team for the South Platte River Waterkeeper.

What are your thoughts about the South Platte River as it is right now?

There are several hundred storm drain outfalls that dump — who knows what — into the river as it passes through Denver and its adjacent suburbs. There are divergent voices on this issue, some that think it’s fine to keep doing this, and others are adamantly opposed to allowing these “drains” to dump the “nutrients” they carry into the river, unfiltered. Historically the South Platte River has essentially been Denver’s sewer. Generations before us have turned their back on the river, and you can see it in what’s been built (and dumped) along the riverbanks. It’s impossible to ignore the mistreatment that this vital watershed has sustained. While there has been some progress, there’s still a ton of work to be done to make sure that this river is treated as a gem instead of a sewer.

That’s where we are at today. We need a community of Water Warriors that want to expedite creating a healthy South Platte River. There’s been a lot of cheerleading and chummy back-patting over the years about what great work has been done, but is anyone really satisfied with the condition of this river? That’s where having a globally recognized group like the Waterkeeper Alliance involved is novel. The Waterkeeper can bring faster action and add a kind of pressure and urgency that’s been missing from the equation. Also, let’s not forget that the Waterkeeper Alliance is a well-known, global entity that continues to lead the charge against those that think polluting our water sources is just another line item, or something that no one will notice.

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