McInnis column: New governor obligated to leadership on Shoshone water
When I was a young boy, my folks would pack us kids up in the car and go out to the Shoshone Power Plant. They told us that like the book “The Little Engine That Could,” this was “The Water Right that could!”
Not that we kids understood what “water right” meant, but we got the picture. We knew it meant a lot for some reason. It seemed like the biggest power plant in the world to us and little did we know that it in fact was powered by water, the use of which was dependent upon one of the most critical water rights in Colorado.
We need to talk about the Shoshone Water Right’s future and the need to make it permanent.
Why should we talk about the need to ensure the permanency of the Shoshone Water Right now? The answer is simple: because soon we will be electing a new governor, and now is the time, before we enter the voting booth to make that critical decision, to hear what leadership commitment to the permanency of the Shoshone Water Right each of the candidates will lock into. A “strong arm” in the governor’s office will be key to establishing the permanency of the Shoshone Water Right.
What is the Shoshone Water Right? Simply put, it is the pre-eminent nonconsumptive water right on the Colorado River, the primary key, and the glue to preserving consistent water flows in the Colorado River. Due to the seniority of the Shoshone Water Right, its owner can place a call on the Colorado River and ensure that water continues to flow downstream as a priority over all but a few more senior water rights in the Grand Valley. Without the Shoshone Call, the West Slope, and all of Colorado, would face the moment of crisis. The resulting calamity would be difficult to describe.
This water right is connected to the Shoshone Power Plant in the Glenwood Canyon. It is an extremely senior water right whose characteristics are a primary factor in the decades-long administration of water in the mighty Colorado River. The nonconsumptive water right is year-round and not limited to use during a particular time of year.
The water right predates the 1922 Colorado River Compact, and no one questions the critical nature of the water right or the negative impacts that would result without it. Should the water right be abandoned or sold for a change of use that results in a transmountain diversion, the downstream flow it currently ensures, and all of the associated benefits to the West Slope and the entire state of Colorado, would cease to exist. The instant negative impacts to the economy, agriculture, recreational uses, water quality, and the basic health of the Colorado River, would be devastating. Do not be mistaken, the perils of a potential loss of the Shoshone Call cannot be overstated.
Xcel Energy owns the water right and has been a responsible corporate partner and steward of the water right to date. The water right is intrinsically valuable to the economy of hundreds of thousands — in fact, all — of Xcel’s customers due to the implications of the ripple effect that would occur should the water right be lost. There is a real need to ensure that Xcel Energy’s good stewardship of the water right continues indefinitely into the future.
If Xcel Energy ceases to use the water right, or it falls into the hands of an owner that doesn’t recognize or respect the importance and need for permanency of the water right for the downstream flow, disaster occurs.
To avoid the potential for such disaster, Colorado’s next governor needs to place the permanency of the Shoshone Call at the top of his list for high and immediate attention. This effort will require extensive legislative work, state funding, and use of political capital. Failure to take these steps, in my opinion, would be a dereliction of duty, considering the importance to the state that he will be leading.
Scott McInnis is a native of Glenwood Springs and a retired U.S. Congressman and current Mesa County commissioner.
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