A small hydroelectric plant with big water rights is the center of a proposal to keep Colorado River water in the state

A coalition of anglers, growers and water districts in the region say preserving the water right would aid them long into the future, but a major state water agency has big questions

Shoshone Dam, here on August 13, 2021, near Glenwood Springs, is generating electricity through its turbines on the Colorado River. The dam and power plant near the Hanging Lake parking area was constructed in the early 1900s.
Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun

AWestern Slope coalition is making a play to buy the water rights of a small hydropower plant with a big role in how water moves across Colorado. If the group succeeds, farmers, water providers, anglers and rafters say they could sleep more easily for years into the future.

“Any kind of an agreement that would take the unknown out of the situation is a relief and allows me to sleep at night,” said Ken Murphy, who owns the rafting company Glenwood Adventure Company. “Recreation is only one aspect to this, and we’re just a small aspect of this, but a very important aspect in our local community.”

The Shoshone Power Plant, owned by Xcel Energy, is small compared with some of the company’s other power plants, but its right to water on the Colorado River is one of the oldest and largest within state lines. Local economies and communities from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction are dependent on consistent flows out of the plant and have been worried for decades about another entity snapping up the Shoshone water rights and siphoning off their water supply.

The coalition, led by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, wants to buy the water rights for $98.5 million and lease them back to Xcel, a move it believes would protect the water and keep it in the river forever. The negotiations are in the early stages, and state officials are weighing some fundamental questions about the agreement. But the decadeslong effort to purchase the rights seems to be experiencing a moment of “convergence” that has Western Slope water users feeling hopeful.

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