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Colorado River Flows
Agreement on the Colorado River maintains flows for endangered fish, rafting industry
Water users, reservoir operators work together
to compensate for loss of Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant
August 8, 2007
Reservoir operators and water users on the Colorado River have arranged to keep river flows at sufficient levels through the rest of the summer to protect endangered fish in the Grand Valley and sustain the rafting industry in Grand, Eagle and Garfield counties.
This cooperative effort by East Slope and West Slope interests is a directed regional solution that puts water in the river that ordinarily would be called downstream by the now-damaged Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant in Glenwood Canyon.
Normally, by calling water downstream to produce electricity at the Xcel Energy-owned Shoshone plant, water is also made available to other water users and recreational and environmental uses through its senior, non-consumptive water rights. The senior 1905 water right of 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs) drives river administration, drawing reservoir releases as river flows naturally decline after the snowmelt. Water is kept in the river when junior rights holders have to replace diverted water with stored water.
But a penstock at the turn-of-the-last-century plant burst on June 20, 2007, causing significant damage and knocking the plant off line. Xcel has said it will make the necessary repairs. However without a functioning plant, Xcel cannot call for the water that people have come to expect in the river.
This fact has drawn the concern of Grand Valley irrigators represented by the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the Palisade Irrigation District, and the Mesa County Irrigation District, as well as by Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado River District.
The entities agreed to target flow rates of 1,200 cfs in Glenwood Canyon through Labor Day and 810 cfs in the 15-Mile Endangered Fish Critical Reach in the Grand Valley through October.
Administering these targets will protect endangered fish as a first priority through the irrigation season while providing the side benefit of recreational flows at least through Labor Day.
Water will be provided from Green Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir (Reclamation and Northern Water), Wolford Mountain Reservoir (Colorado River District), and Williams Fork Reservoir (Denver Water). Water will be released at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. The irrigation entities agreed to participate in the management of their entitlements in Green Mountain Reservoir so that the senior irrigation demands and fish flows can be met throughout the season.
Additional consideration is being given to maintain flows for trout fisheries in the Upper Colorado River in Grand County in late August and early September.
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