By Shannon Mullane

The state’s top water policy agency voted unanimously Monday to contribute $20 million toward purchasing Shoshone Power Plant water rights from Xcel Energy.

It’s the latest step in a long process to finalize the deal, which comes with a $98.5 million price tag, and lawmakers still have to approve the expense. Western Slope water leaders — many of whom were at Monday’s meeting — see Shoshone water rights as a linchpin for their future water security in face of the Colorado River’s unpredictable flows. For them, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s decision was cause for celebration after decades of effort.

“It’s an incredible milestone to reach today and builds momentum to achieve both the fundraising objectives and ultimately the preservation of the historic Shoshone water right,” Amy Moyer, director of strategic partnerships with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said after the meeting.

For over a century, the Shoshone water rights have shaped how water flows through the Colorado River and its tributaries, influencing its delivery to Front Range and Western Slope water users.