Brad Evans's Mission to Turn South Platte River From a Sewer Into a Gem

Brad Evans is now the South Platte River's Waterkeeper.
Brad Evans is now the South Platte River's Waterkeeper. "Platte River" by compujeramey is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Brad Evans loves to stir up shit. The founder of the Denver Cruisers Ride and a 2018 candidate for the RTD board is also the prime mover for Denver FUGLY, which draws attention to the most unsightly new development in the city. And he was among the driving forces behind Ditch the Ditch, a group that unsuccessfully sued to stop the Central 70 project.

Now, Evans has another title to add to his collection: South Platte River Waterkeeper. Under the auspices of Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization that bills itself "the largest and fastest growing nonprofit solely focused on clean water," he will work toward protecting and restoring a waterway that he sees as in desperate need of attention and care. The South Platte is one of Denver's primary water sources, but a Waterkeeper Alliance release argues that it's been tainted by "rampant development, unmonitored dumping from chemical and production plants, and hundreds of stormwater drains."

"It's been a sewer rather than a jewel," Evans says. "So how do you shift from it being a sewer to treating it like a gem? That's what we're going to find out. But right now, we're still in the sewer phase."

click to enlarge Brad Evans is the new waterkeeper for the South Platte River. - COURTESY OF BRAD EVANS
Brad Evans is the new waterkeeper for the South Platte River.
Courtesy of Brad Evans
Sounds like the perfect gig for a shit-stirrer — although he's much more interested in reducing the river's waste and pollution than simply swirling it around, as evidenced by a new online fundraising endeavor being launched in conjunction with Colorado Gives Day today, December 10.

According to Waterkeeper Alliance U.S. organizing manager Bart Mihailovich, "we're a global support network of 350 waterkeepers and waterkeeper affiliates around the world. We serve to support autonomous, local grassroots work with services, so they can do the important work they do to fight for drinkable, fishable and swimmable waters around the world."

Folks like Evans who want to support the cause "reach out to us and say, 'I want to do this,'" Mihailovich continues. "From there, we help them become part of our network. They have to write a proposal and be proposed to our board, and if they're approved, we enter into a licensing agreement. We license groups to use our name if they adhere to our structure, quality standards and conditions and then begin the process of training them. We have a staff that works on everything from litigation to communication to development."

Because Waterkeeper Alliance is based in New York, a lot of its affiliates are working on cleaning up waterways in the east. Of the 180 waterkeepers based in the U.S., just 52 are located west of the Mississippi. That's one reason why Mihailovich, who lives in Montana, is thrilled that Evans is taking on the South Platte. "In the west, we don't have as many giant factories on the rivers or industrial farming right on river banks," he notes. "That's much more common in the east and the south. In the west, we have things that are harder for the public to conceptualize, but the problems can be just as great."

Evans agrees. Inspired by the example of Gary Wockner of Save the Colorado, which advocates on behalf of conservation efforts related to the Colorado River, and encouraged by Denver real estate magnate Kyle Zeppelin, who's signed on to be a board member of the local initiative, Evans decided to give the South Platte some love: "I've wondered, 'Why have we treated our beautiful river so badly?' That's the core of why we got the Waterkeepers Alliance involved — because of decades and decades of mistreatment of the river."

Right now, Evans hasn't completed a blueprint for how he'll begin cleanup efforts; he's still in the research phase. However, he sees his background in cycling and other forms of transportation as a definite advantage. In his view, "these are all interconnected relationships. If we have a good transportation system and a great biking network and clean water and clean air, we can connect the pieces in a way that hasn't been done before."

In an allusion to Ditch the Ditch, he concedes that "we didn't stop a highway, but we're going to save a river."

Then Evans adds: "We've been shitting in the river forever, so to me, it's not a new problem. It's just that we need some new thinking and some new solutions for it."

Click to access the South Platte River Waterkeeper fundraiser page.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts