Cimarron River Flow Restoration
Colorado’s Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness—one of the state’s marquee wilderness areas containing multiple 14,000’ peaks. The headwater streams of the Cimarron River descend long glacially-carved valleys that are traversed by an extensive trail network, and ultimately the Cimarron drains into the iconic Gunnison River in an area renowned for fly-fishing, the Gunnison Gorge and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
As the tributaries of the Cimarron emerge from the high mountains, water is diverted and used to support agriculture among the lower elevation valleys. While much of the Little Cimarron is known for robust trout populations and cold, clean water, assessments show that dewatered sections of the river produce a stressed, unhealthy ecosystem with poor water quality, few trout and unnaturally high water temperatures.
This project led by the Colorado Water Trust, in partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Western Rivers Conservancy, permanently restores flows to a 5-mile section of the Little Cimarron River that is severely dewatered each year during late summer. The flow restoration project allows water to be used for irrigation during the first part of the summer when flows in the river are ample. Then in the late summer, when flows drop, water will be protected in the river, transforming a formerly dry creek bed into a flowing stream. This restored water will reconnect flow between two vital sections of the river and will benefit fish, wildlife, and water quality—and still allow the underlying agricultural use of the water right, a novel win-win project for the Colorado River.
* Project supports voluntary transactions to change, reduce or stop water use – either temporarily or permanently – to protect or restore water for environmental benefit