Multiple powers of Shoshone: Xcel plant also big influence on Colorado River flow

Photo by DENNIS WEBB—Shoshone Generating Station foreman Gary Verdieck has worked at the hydroelectric power plant for 30 years, and his father, Adolph, and two uncles also worked there. The meters that Verdieck shows in the display case are no longer used in the operation of the plant, which is owned by Xcel. But the water right for the facility, granted in 1905, continues to figure prominently in the flow of the Colorado River, preventing diversions upstream.

With its twin turbines out of commission as protection against debris in the high water in the Colorado River, the 102-year-old Shoshone Generating Station in Glenwood Canyon looked like a museum during a public tour this week.

Once the spring runoff season ends and the hydroelectric plant roars back to life, however, it will resume its role in contributing to the power grid and what some consider an even more important function: keeping water in the river when it otherwise might be subject to upstream diversions.

The plant has a highly senior 1905 water right of 1,250 cubic feet per second, which long has been a stabilizing factor in the river flow later in the summer season for downstream users, including for recreation in the Glenwood Springs area, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Power and Water Authority, an intergovernmental group in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“In some years it’s the only thing that keeps the rafting industry in business on the Colorado” later in the season, he said.

The plant, owned by Xcel Energy, reduces the occasions when senior water rights at Cameo must be called, an action that affects junior water-rights holders upstream and reduces river flows below Cameo.

Fuller joined more than 100 others in a visit this week to the plant, part of a three-day tour of the Colorado River basin put on by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. The river basin is the focus of a sweeping proposal involving Denver Water and 33 other entities for future management of the basin. From Fuller’s perspective, terms that would safeguard the plant’s future are a big part of it.

“Knowing that it won’t go away is a huge benefit to the Western Slope,” he said.

Under the deal, Denver Water would agree to cooperate in looking into possible purchase of the plant by a Western Slope entity, which would end fears about its water rights being sold for other uses.

Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said he understands parties’ desire for certainty. But he emphasized neither the plant nor its water right is for sale.

The 15-megawatt plant is small compared to some Xcel power-generation complexes that exceed 1,000 megawatts, but “it’s still a pretty valuable part of our system,” Stutz said.

Xcel hasn’t been a party to the water talks, but Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District said the utility has been kept apprised.

It will continue to be consulted as efforts continue to find a way to ensure the plant’s benefits to the river are made permanent, he said.

The deal also would assure the flow required by the plant’s water right would continue during plant outages, with an exception for extreme drought. In exchange, parties would not oppose renewal of an agreement between Denver Water and Xcel to relax the call in extreme drought conditions.

Xcel spent $12 million putting the plant back into service after a penstock ruptured in 2007, which filled the plant with 8 feet of water as well as rocks and soil.


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