Sound decision: Exxon donates Ruedi water to the West Slope
In the midst of corporate misdeeds these days, a corporate giant has done a good turn to water users on the West Slope.
ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the country, has donated 5,500 acre feet of water to help Western Colorado families and businesses that could have run out of water because of this year’s drought.
One acre foot can supply two families’ water needs for a year.
This week Exxon signed an agreement with the Colorado River Water Conservation District to donate some of the water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to help offset a water shortage in Green Mountain Reservoir.
Without that water, families and businesses in Garfield, Grand, Summit, Eagle and Mesa counties could not have their normal supply out of Green Mountain Reservoir.
About 80 subdivisions, homeowners associations, water districts and businesses rely on Green Mountain water, said river district spokesman Chris Treese. Among them are the Eagle County School District and the Basalt Water Conservancy District.
Because of below normal runoff this spring, Green Mountain Reservoir did not fill, Treese said. “Junior water users would not have had any water at all.”
Junior users are those who have more recent water rights, and are the first to be cut off under the state’s “first in time, first in right” water law.
The River District approached Exxon knowing it typically does not use all the water it holds a right to in a given year, Treese said. Exxon’s water is a holdover from the oil shale days in the mid-1970s when various oil companies bought water rights in the Colorado River Basin for oil shale processing.
“We were not asking anyone to give up their water that was under contract and under schedule for release,” Treese said.
Exxon’s 5,500 acre feet is worth about $360,000 at this year’s contract prices, Treese said.
Also donating some of their Ruedi water this year were the towns of Carbondale, New Castle, Basalt and the city of Rifle, as well as the Ruedi Water and Power Authority and the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Treese said.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates both Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs, approved the agreement and will release water from Ruedi to meet the needs of users who normally rely on Green Mountain water.
These releases from Ruedi Reservoir will not change the flows in the Fryingpan River, Treese said.
“This year we’re doing a number of exchanges and substitutions to make sure water use is as efficient as possible,” he said.
The idea was to maximize storage in the highest reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin because they can serve the most users downstream, he said.
One senior water right was also key to this plan. Xcel Energy, once Public Service of Colorado, holds one of the oldest water rights on the Colorado River to help power the Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant in Glenwood Canyon. That right gives Xcel 1,200 cubic feet per second of water, Treese said.
Xcel, which called for its water much earlier than usual this year because of low spring runoff, agreed to lower its call to 900 to 1,000 cubic feet per second, Treese said.
“The reservoirs couldn’t have filled with what little spring runoff we had this year,” Treese said, without that extra water from Xcel.
Xcel’s reduced call “was a tremendous benefit to our ability to stretch water farther,” he said.
Without Xcel and Exxon, “this dry year would have been even harder. There would literally would be no water for users of Green Mountain water holding junior rights,” he said.
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