Interstate 70 through Colorado

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.

Listen to the radio program on Shoshone and find additional resources here. Interested in the energy/water nexus? Check out our latest Energy Issue of Headwaters magazine.


3 thoughts on “Shoshone

  1. Reblogged this on Grand Valley DRIP – Drought Response Information Project and commented:
    With the holidays upon us, many of use will be traveling along I-70 past the Shoshone power plant. Compared to other major hydro power projects, Shoshone may not be as significant when it comes to putting power back on the grid. However, “Shoshone” is a biblical word in the water industry. This is a great little article on Shoshone and how it influences which continental direction the Colorado River will flow in the State of Colorado.

  2. Very interesting article, I have often seen the plant driving through Glenwood Canyon but was always curious what exactly it was. Last summer I floated Glenwood Canyon right past the plant, and went back to do the same trip a few weeks later only to find that the plant was being operated. The entire section of the river near the plant was significantly lower than the other sections of the Colorado. I was utterly confused about where the water had gone, but now I know. As a recreationalist on Colorado River, this is disappointing to me. But, seeing as the plant is only run a few weeks a year, it seems like this may actually be a good use of the Colorado Rivers mighty strength.


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