Denver Water-Xcel deal affects Summit water
SUMMIT COUNTY Water in Colorado has always been allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis, with senior water rights holders always getting theirs first. But a recent deal between Denver Water and Xcel could chip away at that fundamental aspect state water law.In the framework of a franchise contract renewal, Xcel has agreed to lease part of its water for the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon under certain conditions, enabling Denver Water to store more of it in upstream reservoirs, including Dillon and Green Mountain. Ten percent of the extra water would stay on the West Slope, for example boosting storage in Clinton Gulch reservoir.Xcels water right remains intact, and Denver Water will compensate Xcel for the lost revenue, as well as make 15 percent of the extra stored water available to Xcel later in the year.If our projections of July storage levels are for less than 80 percent, and federal projections for flows in the Colorado River at Kremmling are for less than 85 percent (of average), then the Shoshone call would be relaxed by one turbine from mid-March through May 20, said Denver Water planning director Ed Pokorney, explaining the triggers for the deal.Based on those figures, Pokorney said the agreement would have only kicked in twice in the past 40 years, showing that the deal is meant to provide some insurance for very dry years.Water managers say such flexibility is needed in an era when there is an ever-growing demand for a finite resource. Under similar arrangement, agricultural interests are able to give up their senior water rights temporarily for municipal use under certain conditions.The new Denver Water-Xcel agreement is similar to a one-time deal reached during the 2002 drought that was characterized as an unprecedented relaxation of the Shoshone call. The (2002 agreement) allowed upstream reservoirs to store water at a time when they normally wouldnt have been able to, said Scot Hummer, state water commissioner for the Blue River Basin. The arrangement kept water levels in Summit County reservoirs higher for a period of time that year, and delivered some additional flows later in the summer, providing some economic benefits that may not have been there under a strict administration of the priority water rights system, Hummer said.But those benefits must be weighed against the potential impacts downstream, where there would be less water in the mainstem of the Colorado River during the relaxation. But since the shift would come as runoff levels are rising, there dont seem to be significant environmental or recreation impacts, according to Melinda Kassen, director of Trout Unlimiteds Western Water Project.The concern is more that its a camels nose situation, Kassen said All of a sudden we have a long-term agreement.It meant different things to to different people, County Commissioner Tom Long said of the 2002 deal. Its not all negative, Long said. But despite the potential benefits, he has a fundamental concern that the agreement was reached without input from Western Slope stakeholders.Its West Slope water, Long said. I really think in this day and age, the West Slope should be involved. I think Denver got Xcels arm all twisted up behind their back, in my opinion, then proceeded to create a deal similar to the 2002 deal that those of us on the Western Slope helped create. It wasnt supposed to be a precedent.Something that was not a precedent is now a precedent, said Jim Pokrandt, communication and education specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Its Denver Water just getting another bite of the apple.Pokorney said Denver Water discussed the potential deal with the Colorado River Water Conservation District and other stakeholders at numerous meetings and even circulated a draft version for several months.We told everybody we were looking to build something along the lines of 2003, Pokorney said, wondering why the deal seemed to come as a surprise to West Slope interests.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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