Denver Water has been working to filter sediment from Turkey Creek, above, which feeds into Cheesman Reservoir. (Post / Cyrus McCrimmon )

Cheesman Reservoir - More than four years after the Hayman fire roared over the land surrounding Denver Water's oldest reservoir, the utility continues to wrestle with the fire's aftereffects.

Mud, ash and decomposed granite pours into the reservoir whenever a storm hits, sending tons of muck toward the 101- year-old man-made lake that was at the fire's center. All this creates an ongoing headache for the state's largest water provider.

Utility managers worry that debris may eventually fill in the reservoir, gum up the pipes 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 on activities such as 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 1 million cubic yards of fire-related debris from Strontia Springs Reservoir, downstream of Cheesman, managers said. That debris also is coming from previous fires, officials said.

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

For the next seven years, Denver Water will plant 25,000 trees every year with hopes of creating more stable slopes.

Scars of the June 2002 Hayman fire, which burned about 138,000 acres southwest of Denver, are still visible. Blackened trees and scorched earth mark the burned landscape.

Cheesman Reservoir split the fire into two heads, and the watershed endured some of the fire's most intense heat.

The forest around the lake was virtually untouched for decades, but the fire destroyed 900-year-old trees on the watershed and destabilized slopes that drain into 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 the reservoir.

"If you wouldn't have known what was going on in the outside, you would have thought the world had blown up," he said.

Health of the water system was a top concern during the fire, though no serious water- quality problems were encountered. It was storms after the blaze that brought the worst to the reservoir and still do.

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

"A half-inch of rain, and the ground would literally rise up and start flowing," Keefe said.

Researchers have estimated as much 5.6 million cubic yards of sediment would dump into streams above the reservoir in the five years after the fire.

They predicted 3.1 million cubic yards of sediment would flow into the reservoir - about 3 percent of its capacity.

Denver Water officials say the volume of sediment coming into the reservoir is much higher.

In 2003, utility workers built a 50-foot-tall rock dam on Turkey Creek. The year before, a similar dam was built on Goose Creek. Both creeks feed the reservoir. The dams allow water through to the reservoir but block most of the dirt.

The dams create an ongoing buildup of debris on the creeks that the utility spends roughly $300,000 a year to clear.

After a storm destroyed part of Colorado 67 in the summer, debris built up 10 feet from the top of the Turkey Creek dam.

A crew of eight, who will live at the reservoir through the end of the year, spends 10-hour days scooping up the granite, dirt and ash from in front of the dam.

They dump 30 or 40 tons at a time into trucks and haul the debris up a hill to a pile that officials hope won't fall back into the creek when the next storm hits.

"It's a massive job," said Christensen. "I don't see an end to it. No one on the outside of our area is trying to contain anything."

Keefe said he believes the utility will be feeling the effects of the 2002 fire for decades to come.

"I'm thinking this is going to be the rest of my career," Keefe said. "That's the way it's looking."

Staff writer Jeremy P. Meyer can be reached at 303-954-1367 or