Shoshone: “It’s an important plant for us [@XcelEnergyCO]” — Jerome Davis #ColoradoRiver

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Glenwood Canyon hydroelectric power plant with a controlling historic water right on the Colorado River is not for sale, a top executive with the Colorado subsidiary of Xcel Energy said Monday. Speaking at a meeting of the Colorado Basin Roundtable water-planning group, Jerome Davis, regional vice president of Xcel’s Public Service Company of Colorado, called the plant “extremely important” to Public Service.

The roundtable group is providing input on the state water plan and is hoping that plan takes note of the plant’s importance to western Colorado because of its 1905 water right. The right requires delivery of 1,250 cubic feet per second to the plant and is senior to rights including those of Front Range municipal transmountain diverters. The water continues downstream of the plant because of its nonconsumptive nature.

Western Slope entities have feared that Xcel might sell the small, 15-megawatt plant to a Front Range entity interested in abandoning the water right, which would significantly decrease Colorado River flows certain times of year. There also is Western Slope interest in having an opportunity to buy the plant should it be available for sale, to protect those historic flows.

But Davis on Monday said Xcel isn’t interested in selling the plant. He noted that the company has invested about $21 million there since 2007 repairing a ruptured penstock, doing dam work and a spillway replacement, and undertaking other projects.

“It’s an important plant for us when you talk about system reliability and system stability,” Davis said.

“… It also plays an important role in our renewable portfolio. … Those reasons really drive that in terms of where we view that long-term necessity of that plant.”

He said system reliability and rate competitiveness are Xcel’s top priorities as a utility, and while small, Shoshone adds to that reliability.

The plant doesn’t count as renewable energy in terms of Xcel meeting what’s required of it in that regard in Colorado, but Xcel officials said Monday it’s still viewed as an important renewable source within the company.

Asked whether Xcel would be willing to grant the Western Slope the right of first refusal should it ever decide to sell the plant, Davis declined to make any such commitment. But he did say the company took away that right from Denver in a franchise agreement between the city and Xcel for providing power there.

“We really see no change in terms of our operations” going forward with the plant, Davis reiterated, but he said the company makes a point to listen to all stakeholders and “ensure that all vested interests are listened to and addressed” in whatever it does.

“You’re hearing me say Shoshone is not for sale. I do have a pretty good feel in terms of the importance of it to the entire state,” Davis said.

As part of a 2007 franchise agreement with Denver, Xcel agreed to relax Shoshone’s water call under certain conditions, beginning with a projection that Denver water storage wouldn’t reach 80 percent during spring runoff. He said Xcel worked to involve others in the discussions to reach a balanced agreement that worked for the Western Slope and the river, and Denver proved to be “tremendous partner.”

“There’s this understanding that we work these things out with all stakeholders, as one unit,” Davis said.

A subsequent, far-reaching agreement between the utility Denver Water and dozens of Western Slope entities includes a protocol for generally continuing flows during plant outages, and even if the plant is no longer operational. Under it, the utility also would support possible purchase of a plant by a Western Slope entity. Under that agreement, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has initiated a process to study how best to preserve Shoshone flows, whether through a plant purchase or other means.

Among the concerns for some Western Slope interests is whether Xcel might someday change its mind about selling Shoshone, and the fact that the Denver Water deal doesn’t extend to other Front Range utilities.

Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran told Davis Monday that should a time come when the plant is put up for sale, it’s the water right the Western Slope cares about, not Shoshone’s power capability.

“To remove that water right from the West Slope will upset the balance of the state more than you can ever realize,” she said.

Said basin roundtable member Chuck Ogilby, “I just think the Western Slope wants to know that that water right’s going to be there and protect our minimum-flow regime that we have as an assurance today.”

Officials with the river district have indicated they would be a likely interested party should the opportunity to acquire the plant ever arise. But Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, said Xcel is the most qualified entity to operate and maintain the aging facility, and that the district’s interest in the plant stems from river flows, not power generation.

“If it were for sale we would have to have somebody who knew the power business as our major partner because we couldn’t do that. We’re not in that business,” he said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

“It’s a way for us to cross boundaries and work together” — Alan Hamel #COWaterPlan

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state water plan probably won’t make anyone’s wildest dreams come true, but it could provide a framework to get things done.

“It’s a way for us to cross boundaries and work together,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation board. “We have worked with the Rio Grande and South Platte basins. We need to reach across the Continental Divide as well.”

Hamel’s comments were among many heard by the state Legislature’s interim water resources committee as part of a statewide listening tour on the water plan. The panel spent three hours at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library, hearing strong messages about regulation, conservation and storage.

“We represent an extremely wide variety of water users and water issues,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. The roundtable has met since 2005 to sort out water issues in the basin. “We are both a (water) importing and exporting basin, and we have the second-highest gap in the state. But it’s not uniform.”

Hamel and Konarski highlighted the need for the roundtables. There have been 22 public outreach meetings on the state water plan alone, generating hundreds of comments. Hamel lauded the $56 million in state Water Supply Reserve Account grants that, coupled with CWCB loans, have already gone a long way toward completing projects that will reduce the looming water gap.

The legislators participated in small-group discussions and heard testimony that generated a flood of water-related suggestions.

Some of the key points included:

  • Gary Bostrom, chief of water services for Colorado Springs Utilities, talked about a 50-year water plan now under development by Utilities that mirrors the state water plan. Future water projects must look at regional cooperation rather than just filling urban needs, he said.

    “We need to support alternative water transfer methods,” Bostrom said. “They won’t be successful if the regulations are as difficult as permanent transfers.”

  • Marge Vorndam, of Trout Unlimited, said water for farms needs to be preserved because it supports flows in the upper reaches of the Arkansas River system.

    “The state water plan should be addressing the limits of growth,” she added. “What is the maximum population that can be served?”

  • Kiera Hatton of Pueblo suggested that the state needs to be more proactive in supporting urban conservation measures such as graywater reuse and rainwater collection that could reduce the amount of water usage.
  • Bob Leach, a Pueblo developer, told the committee that local regulations should not be one-size-fits-all, and emphasized the need for local control of projects.
  • Sean Chambers, manager of the Cherokee Metro District near Colorado Springs, said the state should remove barriers to groundwater storage.
  • A draft state plan is scheduled to be completed in December, with adoption of a final plan scheduled one year later.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Aspinall Unit operations meeting Thursday, Septmember 4

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The next Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting will be held at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir this Thursday, September 4th at 1 PM. Handouts will be available on the website prior to the meeting.

    Water Values podcast: Insights to Effective Communication in the Water Industry

    August was wet but… #COwx #COdrought

    World Water Week 2014, August 31 to September 5 #wwweek

    Screenshot from the World Water Week website
    Screenshot from the World Water Week website

    Click here to go to the website.

    “There has been a lot of effort to politicize the [EPA ‘Waters of the US’] rule-making” — Mark Squillace

    Hay meadows near Gunnison
    Hay meadows near Gunnison

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Bowerman):

    With water arguably more precious than gold in the West, measures from the federal government to regulate an already-limited resource have been met with fierce opposition.

    In the last year, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources held federal oversight hearings on measures ranging from groundwater regulation and ongoing ski area water-rights permits to a Clean Water Act rule. But the measure creating the most noise, specifically from the American Farm Bureau and Western ranching groups, was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers definition of “waters of the United States,” or what waters fall under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

    Opponents of the definition painted a picture of federal agents attacking private water rights and regulating puddles, ponds and ditches.

    During a hearing on the “waters of the United States rule” in July, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the rule was a “water grab” by the EPA.

    “This is straightforward: You either want to protect the private-property rights of water in Colorado and protect our state law or you don’t,” Tipton said.

    Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the EPA was trying to clarify the rule, so it wouldn’t have an expensive case-by-case process every time someone wanted to use water.

    He said the navigable waters under federal jurisdiction are pretty clear; they include waters adjacent to a tributary or wetlands. Where things got tricky, and when the alarm was pulled, was the “other waters” – or waters that aren’t traditionally thought of as navigable or regulated under federal law, but may, in some circumstances, even seasonally, reach a navigable body of water.

    “There has been a lot of effort to politicize the rule-making and generate controversy over it,” Squillace said. “Ditching in the backyard is only covered if connected to a navigable body of water. So if you put in a ditch, and it runs into a river or stream, (it is covered). But if you have a pond, and it’s not draining into a stream, you aren’t regulated under the Clean Water Act. Really, nothing has changed.”

    In Western states, agriculture uses a predominant portion of water. In Colorado alone, agriculture accounts for nearly 90 percent of water usage, according to the Colorado River Water Users Association.

    With so much on the line, Baxstrom said farmers are always wary that federal law regulating water could conflict with Colorado’s state water laws where water is regulated among state, federal and tribal uses. When the federal government inserts a water regulation, it’s laid on top of many different pulls on the water.

    “It’s such a variable; it’s very important to agriculture to keep administration at a state level,” Baxstrom said. “Every area is different, and that’s why it’s important to maintain state law as opposed to federal administration because every basin is unique, every situation is unique.”

    Squillace said the rule would not protect any waters that were not historically protected under the Clean Water Act but directly responds to Supreme Court cases requiring a more narrowly tailored definition of what wetlands and streams are covered.

    “There is an exemption for normal farming and ranching that includes things like cultivation and ground disturbances, even though many of the farming activities could adversely affect water quality,” Squillace said.

    And not all farmers are against the rule. The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union supports the rule, alongside other water users like the recreational sector and environmental groups that see the rule as an opportunity to strengthen clean water protections for all water users.

    “This is the biggest step forward we’ve seen to protect waterways in more than a decade,” said Kim Stevens, campaign director from Environment Colorado. “This isn’t about regulating puddles; it’s about protecting 73,000 miles of Colorado waterways and drinking water for 3.7 million Coloradans.”

    According to the EPA, “about 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. flow only seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters.” These waters also provide drinking water for about 1 in 3 people.

    The public comment period on the rule has been extended until Oct. 20.

    House Republicans are expected to take up a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., that would prohibit the federal government from implementing the rule in lieu of federal agencies working with states to decide what waters are federally protected or left to regulate by the state.

    Click here to go to the EPA’s “Ditch the Myth” website. More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.