This small hydroplant, tucked away behind I-70 in Glenwood Canyon can be hard to spot– many drive right past without knowing its there– but, thanks to its water right, Shoshone has a big impact. Listen to our latest show in the radio series Connecting to Drops to hear about the critical role Xcel Energy’s Shoshone plays on the upper Colorado.
From the article, Phoning for Flows, in the Summer 2011 issue of Headwaters magazine.
The single most important water right in understanding management of the Colorado River, however, is far from the oldest. It belongs to the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon. Driving through the canyon since the completion of Interstate 70, it’s easy to miss the pumpkin pie-colored buildings now located below road grade. Water people don’t. They understand the influence of the water rights there, which affect the distribution of water both east to Denver and west to Fruita. Owned by Xcel Energy, Shoshone’s 1902 water right is for 1,250 cubic feet per second, enough to suck the river nearly dry for about three miles during the winter, making a substantial dent even in summer. When Shoshone is running, it creates certainty for river users. Those with upstream water rights more recent than 1902—which includes most transmountain and other diversions of any size—cannot remove or hold back water from the river if Shoshone has not received its full share. For downstream users, regardless of seniority, the water that returns to the river after being used to produce electricity is guaranteed to be coming their way. Any interruption of Shoshone’s call for water is an upset of the apple cart. It is so unsettling to all users that they have at times agreed to a protocol that assumes the Shoshone call is “on” even if the plant experiences an outage.
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