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Runoff might flow to Denver

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The leading Western Slope water agency endorsed a plan Wednesday to reduce spring runoff flows coming to the Shoshone Hydroelectric Power Plant for two months to benefit Denver and other upstream water users.In a special meeting, the Colorado River Water Conservation District board unanimously voted to conditionally support a plan to cut water deliveries to the Shoshone Plant in Glenwood Canyon from March 21 to May 21. The goal of the plan is to use saved water to fill upstream reservoirs – tapped by Western Slope and Front Range water users – drained low by drought during the last few years.A written agreement must be ready for River District approval by Friday, March 21, when the district board plans meet by telephone.”We have our hat in our hand and we’re willing to do anything to get whatever we can,” said Denver Water spokesman Dave Little during the meeting. Several conditions have yet to be put into the agreement:-Colorado River flows at the plant must run at least 704 cubic feet per second, which is half the water the plant could legally call for.-Acknowledgment that this temporary flow reduction doesn’t set a precedent for future water allocation decisions.-River flows at the Shoshone Plant must still be freely adjusted if downstream users, such as irrigators in Mesa County, need water.-The plan is limited to run from March 21 to May 21.-Western Slope interests will receive 10 percent of all water saved in Denver’s upstream reservoirs. The rate and amount of snowmelt this spring will dictate how much water the flow reductions yield. Denver could gain anywhere from 200 to 17,000 acre-feet, Little said.An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, and is the water used in a year by five urban residents.Even if the River District officially endorses the plan next week, the final decision still rests with Xcel Energy, the owner of the Shoshone Plant and its water right.”I want to warn you, it’s not our decision to make,” River District manager Eric Kuhn told the board. “It’s Xcel’s water, so it’s Xcel’s decision.”River District board members worry that this plan could set a precedent for Denver Water to grab more Western Slope water in the future. Water attorney Jim Lochhead, representing the city of Grand Junction, argued that the precedent of the district supporting Denver’s request is better than Denver Water going straight to Xcel and cutting a two-way deal to get water. “That would be the worst precedent,” Lochhead said. One way to illustrate this year’s extreme conditions is to spell out exactly how low Denver’s reservoir storage has sunk this year, suggested district board president Paul Ohri. That way, even if the plan sets a precedent, it would be a difficult standard to meet in another year, he said.Board members were also concerned how the plan could affect rafting on the Colorado River.But the flow reduction deal ends May 21, just ahead of the high season for rafting that starts Memorial Day weekend – May 24, 25 and 26.”We need to understand that it was because of reservoir releases that we had any rafting at all,” said River District board member Bill Ferguson of Ouray County.Attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents several water users upstream of the power plant, said that while the district normally would shy away from tinkering with the valuable Shoshone call, the drought has presented the entire state with an unprecedented water shortage. “In unique circumstances, there’s a real need to help out,” he said. “These are really unique circumstances.”After the meeting Little said, “I was very pleased with the way it turned out.”Contact Greg Mass: 945-8515, ext. 511gmasse@postindependent.com


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