Denver has new say in Shoshone flows
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A controversial agreement between Xcel Energy and the Denver Water Board will affect a historic water right held by the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon.
The 25-year agreement, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows Denver to dictate a reduction in the plant’s water right on the Colorado River during certain times of the year.
Owned by Xcel Energy, the Shoshone plant generates about 15 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 15,000 people for a year.
The plant has one of the oldest water rights on the Colorado River, dating to 1905, for 1,250 cubic feet per second. When diversions upstream of the plant reduce the flow of the Colorado to less than what the hydroelectric plant is entitled to, it can issue a “call” or demand for that water. Holders of younger or junior rights upstream of Shoshone are then required to reduce their diversions or to make releases from reservoirs to offset those diversions.
The 2006 agreement replaces a previous agreement between Denver and Xcel, which was inked in 1987. The agreement was reached during separate negotiations for an Xcel franchise with the city to use city streets to provide electric service to its customers. Denver leveraged the desired franchise to gain the Shoshone water right relaxation.
Under that agreement, Denver exercised its prerogative to reduce Shoshone’s water right in the spring of 2003, following what many acknowledge as one of the state’s worst drought years, 2002. The reduction gave Denver a chance to fill its reservoirs during spring runoff.
The new agreement, which was negotiated without public input, nevertheless had important input from the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, an organization that “protects and develops Colorado River water,” said district spokesman Chris Treese.
Treese spoke to the Garfield County commissioners Monday about water issues affecting the county.
“We were not part of the negotiation between the city and county of Denver and Xcel,” he said. But the district met with Xcel executives last year during those negotiations to present the Western Slope perspective on the agreement.
“We got what we thought was a very fair set of protections, which we feel resolve 90-95 percent of the issues,” Treese said.
Among the issues Treese said Denver agreed to were limiting the relaxation from mid-march to late May so it would not impact the busy Glenwood Canyon rafting season that starts up in the spring.
The reduction can take place only when snow meltoff is forecast to be less than 85 percent of normal in a given year.
Further, Denver cannot relax the Shoshone call if it would trigger the downstream Cameo call, a collection of senior water rights held by various irrigation groups in the Grand Valley.
“That’s not to say it was the best possible outcome,” said river district attorney Peter Fleming.
Commissioner John Martin said the curtailment of the historic Shoshone call without public participation only points to the need for the county to be involved in state water initiatives.
“We’re being bled to death here,” he said, referring to the water diversions to the Front Range. “I’m worried. We’ve had very little input. Our voice has just been silenced.”
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