Historic dam puts on a spectacular water show

Denver Water’s Cheesman Dam fills and spills thanks to last winter’s abundant snowfall.

July 12, 2019 | By: Jay Adams

 

Watching water flow over Cheesman Dam’s unique stone spillway is nothing short of spectacular.

The dam and reservoir sit in a remote canyon that straddles the border of Douglas and Jefferson counties about two hours southwest of Denver near Deckers.

When the water level in Cheesman Reservoir behind the dam is high enough, water cascades like a waterfall down the spillway, a 220-foot-high wall of boulders, into the South Platte River below.

The reservoir collects mountain snow that melts and pours into the South Platte River. On June 28, Cheesman filled to capacity and started spilling thanks to abundant snowfall last winter.

White water spills down a wall of red boulders, withe the flat blue reservoir in the background under mountains and a cloud-dotted blue sky.
Following a robust snowpack built up during the winter and spring, Cheesman Dam spills water down its spillway, a 220-foot high wall of boulders, in June 2019. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Spillways provide an important safety feature for dams, offering a safe path for the water to flow downstream and ensuring large amounts of water do not go over the top of the dam.

Cheesman is unique among Denver Water’s 12 major dams in that it has three ways to move water through the dam.

Five valves at the bottom of the dam serve as the primary way the dam operators can release water. In the middle of the dam is another valve, which functions as a backup to the main valves below. And when water levels in the reservoir are high enough, the operators can choose to send water down the spillway. (Watch this video to see how the three release options lead to happy trout in the South Platte River.)

White water laces down brick-red boulders with green trees in the foreground and a reservoir behind.
Following a robust snowpack built up during the winter and spring, Cheesman Dam spills water down a 220-foot high wall of boulders in June 2019. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Cheesman opened in 1905 and can store 79,000 acre-feet of water, nearly 27 billion gallons. That’s enough water to supply 316,256 residential households for an entire year.

The dam is expected to continue spilling water into mid-July. Hikers can catch a peek of the stone spillway in use from a recreational trail at the bottom of Cheesman Canyon.

White water, green trees and red boulders.
Cheesman Dam, seen from above, as water spills down the spillway, a 220-foot high wall of boulders, in June 2019. The water goes to the South Platte River, seen in the distance. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 Bailee Campbell, Denver Water’s video intern, contributed to this story and video.

 

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