Colorado

Little Cimarron River

Re-watering a key tributary of Colorado's Gunnison River

WRC took the first steps toward reconnecting prime trout habitat on a key Gunnison River tributary, the Little Cimarron, when it purchased a former dairy farm above this Colorado stream.
WRC took the first steps toward reconnecting prime trout habitat on a key Gunnison River tributary, the Little Cimarron, when it purchased a former dairy farm above this Colorado stream.
Photography | Russ Schnitzer
This stretch of the Little Cimarron often runs dry during late summer. WRC is working to reestablish perennial flows, reconnect vital fish habitat and reduce overall stream temperatures.
This stretch of the Little Cimarron often runs dry during late summer. WRC is working to reestablish perennial flows, reconnect vital fish habitat and reduce overall stream temperatures.
Photography | Russ Schnitzer
Western Rivers Conservancy has partnered with Colorado Water Trust and Colorado Open Lands and acquired a farm that will allow us to place water in-stream and ensure perennial flows where today the Little Cimarron runs dry.
Western Rivers Conservancy has partnered with Colorado Water Trust and Colorado Open Lands and acquired a farm that will allow us to place water in-stream and ensure perennial flows where today the Little Cimarron runs dry.
Photography | Dawn Reeder
The upper reaches of the Little Cimarron are teeming with naturally reproducing rainbow and brook trout. The area is cherished by fly anglers for its outstanding fishing.
The upper reaches of the Little Cimarron are teeming with naturally reproducing rainbow and brook trout. The area is cherished by fly anglers for its outstanding fishing.
Photography | Richard Durnan
The Little Cimarron flows from the Uncompahgre Wilderness and joins the main-stem Cimarron just upstream from its confluence with the Gunnison River.
The Little Cimarron flows from the Uncompahgre Wilderness and joins the main-stem Cimarron just upstream from its confluence with the Gunnison River.
Photography | Richard Durnan
Spring runoff keeps Little Cimarron flowing strong during spring and early summer.
Spring runoff keeps Little Cimarron flowing strong during spring and early summer.
Photography | Richard Durnan

Colorado’s Little Cimarron River tumbles out of the Uncompahgre Wilderness high in the Rocky Mountains. It flows for 25 miles before joining the main-stem Cimarron, which meets the Gunnison River at the spectacular Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Little Cimarron’s upper reaches are prime trout water. The lower river, however, where it passes through the agricultural Pleasant Valley, is de-watered much of the year.

When a strategically located farm in the Pleasant Valley went into foreclosure, WRC, working with Colorado Water Trust (CWT), recognized a unique opportunity to put water back in the Little Cimarron. The property possesses senior water rights on a major irrigation ditch—enough water, in fact, to keep the Little Cimarron flowing year round if kept in the river. In 2012, WRC stepped in and purchased the farm. In 2020, WRC partnered with CWT and COL to conserve the farmland and dedicate the farm’s water as exclusively “in-stream” during the driest months of the year.

This project reestablishes perennial flows, reconnects vital fish habitat, reduces river temperatures and allows trout to repopulate the de-watered reach of the stream. For WRC this is a prime example of how strategic land acquisition can be the most effective way to conserve a river—forever.

Funding for the Little Cimarron River Project was made possible through generous contributions from multiple sources, including the L. P. Brown Foundation, The Conservation Alliance, ExxonMobil and with the generous support of many additional individuals, foundations and businesses.

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