Historic Colorado River water rights purchase considered

Historic water rights at Shoshone Power Plant
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The Colorado River DistrictOpens in a new tab., leading a Western Slope coalition, aims to invest around $98.5 million to secure historic water rights from Xcel Energy tied to the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant. As reported by The Daily SentinelOpens in a new tab., these rights, originating from the early 1900s, are important for maintaining river flows in western Colorado.

Significance of Senior Rights.

In Colorado, water usage from the river is determined by the seniority of water rights. Shoshone’s rights, as the most senior, have a considerable impact. When river flows dip under 1,408 cfs, it limits water access for many junior rights holders.

History and Importance of Shoshone.

Situated in Glenwood Springs, the Shoshone plant generates about 15 megawatts of electricity. Despite its modest size and older infrastructure, the water right associated with it is exceptionally valuable and dominant. This plant has been a key focus for Western Slope water officials concerned about safeguarding its vital water rights. These rights have long-term implications for the Colorado River ecosystem and surrounding communities.

Agreements and Future Plans.

Efforts to perpetually protect the Shoshone’s water flow are nothing new. The Colorado River District has been eyeing the facility for yearsOpens in a new tab..  Recognizing its significance, even Denver Water has committed to aiding Western ColoradoOpens in a new tab. in preserving the facility instead of attempting to buy the rights. Negotiations are underway for a permanent lease arrangement where the river district would provide water rights to the plant operator.

Funding the Purchase.

The proposed purchase of over $98 million comes from recent evaluations. To finance this, the River District plans to allocate $20 million from a tax increase sanctioned in 2020. An additional $10 million is expected from other Western Slope organizations. Discussions are ongoing to secure $49 million from federal drought mitigation funds and another $20 million from state resources.

What’s Next?

The District wants to eventually work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to introduce instream flow as an alternate beneficial purpose for the Shoshone water rights. This will ensure continued water availability even when not beneficially used for electricity. The goal is to finalize this complex deal by the end of 2026.

The Shoshone Power Plant.

Located in Glenwood Springs, the Shoshone hydroelectric facility is an early and significant power plant on the Colorado River. Established to exploit the river’s hydroelectric potential, it leverages the elevation drop in Glenwood Canyon. This plant has been pivotal in shaping water rights for the upper river.


General view of Shoshone intake diversion dam in Glenwood CanyonOpens in a new tab., Glenwood Springs, Garfield County, Colorado.  Library of Congress, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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