In winter of drought, time to pull plug on Shoshone water call? |

In winter of drought, time to pull plug on Shoshone water call?

Greg Masse
Staff Writer
From left, James Clutts and Jason Dickmann, both laborors drill a core sample over the Wheeler Coal Seam up South Canyon. The USGS is studying the geology around the coal seam fire looking for a way to extinques the one hundred year old blaze. Jim Noelker photo

Water users met Friday to discuss whether Xcel Energy should forgo its historic call for Colorado River water to power the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon.

Xcel, formerly Public Service Co., has never before let the Shoshone plant run dry in favor of other water users along the river.

But in the winter after one of the West’s worst droughts on record, the power company and water users are openly discussing the possibility.

Winter flows in the river commonly drop below the power plant’s historic water right of 1,250 cubic feet per second.

The power company traditionally uses its top-priority water right to force cities, towns and ski areas upstream to limit water use and send enough water downstream to meet the Shoshone call.

In most winters, that means a modest curtailment on snowmaking and reservoir storage. This year, the effects of a Shoshone call could be far more severe.

“Some reservoirs could be at just 20 percent capacity by April 1,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District engineer Dave Merritt of Glenwood Springs.

More than 35 people met at the Hotel Colorado Friday, representing most of the entities with an interest in the Colorado River, to discuss winter operations of the river.

They tried to agree on whether Xcel should make its usual call for water, or refrain for the first time ever in an effort to keep more water in upstream reservoirs.

“Essentially, people feel strongly both ways,” Merritt said.

Some are concerned that forgoing the water call could set a precedent, even if it was done only in the most dire circumstances of record drought.

But if the power company indeed decides to refrain from making the water calls, there could be trouble downstream.

“It’s the law of unintended consequences,” Merritt said.

The Shoshone call preserves higher winter flows in the Colorado River downstream from Glenwood Canyon, including endangered fish habitat in the Grand Valley. If flows are allowed to drop below Shoshone’s 1,250 cfs water right, there’s a greater chance some endangered fish may die, Merritt said.

No decision was made Friday, and the meeting was continued until an unspecified date.

A smaller group will meet on Dec. 15 to work through some of the issues brought up on Friday, Merritt said.

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