Denver water system still reeling from effects of wildfire

Denver water system still reeling fromeffects of wildfire

24 November 2006

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USA — More than four years after the huge Hayman fire roared through theforests southwest of Denver, surrounding the Denver water utility’s oldestreservoir, the company continues to wrestle with the fire’s aftereffects.

Mud, ash and decomposed material pours into 101-year-old Cheesman Reservoirwhenever a storm hits, sending tons of muck into the lake that was at thefire’s center.

All this creates an ongoing headache for Colorado’s largest water provider.

Utility managers worry debris may eventually fill in the reservoir, gum up thepipes and render the water system ineffective.

‘‘We were told it would stabilize in five years,’’ said Kevin Keefe,superintendent of source supply for Denver Water.

‘‘This is year four. It’s not getting better,’’ Keefe said.‘‘It’s getting worse.’’

The utility has spent $7.8 million in the last four years removing debris,replacing culverts, building sediment dams and seeding slopes, officials say.

There is still $20 million worth of work that remains to remove an estimated 1million cubic yards of fire-related debris from Strontia Springs Reservoir,downstream of Cheesman, managers said. That debris also is coming from previousfires, officials said.

Federal officials estimate the total costs of the June 2002 Hayman fire at$237.82 million, including the $42.23 million firefighting costs and the $38million in insurance payouts.

For the next seven years, Denver Water will plant 25,000 trees every year,hoping to create more stable slopes.

Scars from the Hayman fire, which burned about 138,000 acres, are still visiblein blackened trees and scorched earth.

Cheesman Reservoir split the fire into two heads, and the watershed endured someof the fire’s most intense heat.

The forest around the lake was virtually untouched for decades, but the firedestroyed 900-year-old trees in the watershed and destabilized slopes that draininto the reservoir.

‘‘You’re looking at the dead center of the fire,’’ said Ed Christensen,district foreman for Denver Water, standing in the burned pine forest around thereservoir.

About 56 percent of the burned area drains directly into Cheesman Reservoir,according to a Forest Service study.

‘‘A half-inch of rain, and the ground would literally rise up and startflowing,’’ Keefe said.

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