Protecting Our Future: Water Protection & Preservation

By: Curtis Englehart | Executive Director, GJEP

Originally published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (June 16, 2024)

Water has always been essential to our way of life here on the western slope. Water touches every area of our daily lives and the local economy. It holds both historical significance and the key to our future.  

During our last board of directors meeting, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership voted to strongly support the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s efforts to acquire and permanently protect the Shoshone water rights.  

For more than 20 years, the Colorado River District and a growing coalition of Colorado governments and water entities have been working together to permanently preserve the Shoshone flows. The Shoshone Hydro Plant, a unique run of the river hydroelectric power plant, sits along the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon and produces 15 megawatts of electricity. Shoshone holds a very senior (1902), non-consumptive water right on the Colorado River, returning the flows it uses to the river after a short trip through the hydropower plant’s penstocks and turbines.  

In December 2023, the Colorado River District and Xcel Energy signed a historic deal that would allow the Colorado River District to purchase the Shoshone water rights from Xcel for a purchase price of close to $99 million. This deal marked a significant step in the effort to ensure stable flows for water users and ecosystems throughout the western slope, from Glenwood Springs to the Utah border.  

Securing the permanent protection of the historic Shoshone water rights on the Colorado River and protecting our critical infrastructure is imperative. This generational investment in Colorado’s water security will protect Colorado’s environment, native fish, and recreational economy. It will also protect our productive agriculture economy and our community’s clean drinking water.  

Without these flows, river levels will be lower, temperatures will be higher, and interest upstream could take more water out of the natural river basin. During the last 23 years of severe drought, the benefit of the river’s Shoshone flow has become even more evident and important. If the power plant were to cease operation without permanent water protection right through an instream flow, the negative economic and environmental impacts to the State of Colorado, particularly the western slope, would be immediate and profound.  

The Colorado River District’s efforts to complete the conditions necessary to execute the purchase and sale of the Shoshone water rights are imperative to the future of our communities. The permanent protection of Shoshone flows will secure multiple benefits to Colorado River users on the western slope and across the state, including: 

  • Supporting Colorado’s foundational $11.9 billion agricultural economy and $14.6 billion recreation economy 
  • Maintaining water quality for agriculture and drinking water 
  • Ecosystem benefits and stream flow to support a healthy 15-mile reach, which allows for Endangered Species Act compliance via a successful Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program  
  • Maintaining stream flow through Upper Colorado River Wild & Scenic Alternative Management Plan River sections  

 The Colorado River’s significance to the United States economy, national security, and local communities cannot be overstated. Its role in water supply, agriculture, hydroelectric power, recreation, and ecosystem support underscores the need for sustainable management and protection of this vital resource. 

At the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, our mission is to enhance the economic vitality in Mesa County, creating a strong and diverse economy and an improved quality of life. We support the Shoshone water rights purchase because we believe protecting this asset will not only protect our way of life here on the western slope but also pave the way for future efforts to support economic vitality and resilience across multiple sectors by protecting the Colorado River.  

Across the western slope, our communities have rallied behind this cause, pledging a combined $4.8 million from Mesa County entities. The Ute Water Conservancy District has committed to providing $2 million, Mesa County has committed to providing $1 million, the City of Grand Junction has committed $1 million, and several substantial contributions have come from local irrigation districts and associations. The Colorado River District has allocated $20 million of its own funds toward the purchase, and just recently, through HB 1435, the State of Colorado has committed $20 million toward the $99 million purchase.  

Increasing our focus on protecting water and critical infrastructure, particularly the Colorado River, in the coming years will be imperative. With over 70% of the flow of the Colorado River originating in western Colorado and the resource being infamous for its stresses due to over-allocation, overuse, and more than a century of manipulation from outside entities, the purchase of the Shoshone water rights is a critical step in the right direction for our communities.  

For more information on the Shoshone water right purchase, resources, and ways to support the efforts of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, please visit www.keepshoshoneflowing.org

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