Fueled by record rainfall in May and a melting snowpack, the river swelled to its highest level since 1995.
Water from the South Platte, which serves as Denver Water’s primary delivery system, filled Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon, Cheesman and Strontia Springs reservoirs, and led to dangerous conditions downstream.
Three precipitation records were broken this year. At Eleven Mile Reservoir, caretaker Mike Kelly reported 4.54 inches of rain in May, breaking the old May record of 3.12 inches set in 1994.
Antero and Cheesman reservoirs set May precipitation records with 4.46 and 5.38 inches respectively. Adding to the high river levels, Strontia Springs got hit with 5.82 inches of rain in May — the second wettest May since the dam was built in 1983.
After the rains, the snowmelt kicked into high gear, giving the South Platte River a one-two punch of precipitation. The spillways at Eleven Mile Canyon, Cheesman and Strontia Springs thundered in spectacular fashion.
“I’ve been here for 21 years, and this is the most water we’ve seen since 1995,” said Mike Kelly, Eleven Mile Reservoir caretaker.
At Strontia Springs Reservoir, water shooting off the dam’s spillway created an awe-inspiring waterfall. “It’s really impressive,” said Heath Stuerke, Strontia Springs head caretaker. “It’s been quite the experience to watch all the water and be part of this historic water season in Colorado.”
As much as Colorado’s arid climate craves water, too much of a good thing in such a short time can be troublesome, too.
From mid-to-late June, Denver Water put Eleven Mile Canyon, Cheesman and Strontia Springs dams under heightened alert until the river flows subsided. Waterton Canyon also was closed for several weeks because of the high water.