Increasing Flow on the Upper Rio Grande

4 minute read

River In A Valley

Program: Upper Rio Grande Winter Flow Restoration 

Location: Conejos River & Upper Rio Grande, Colorado


  •     Environmental Flow & Restoration 
  •     Wildlife & Habitat Protection 

Hosting some of Colorado’s best scenery and fishing opportunities, the 93-mile long Conejos River is a tributary of the Rio Grande, the fifth longest river in North America. Here in the eastern San Juan Mountains of south-central Colorado, the Conejos River Valley and Upper Rio Grande support farming, ranching, and rural communities. The area is also a hidden gem for hikers, whitewater rafters, and anglers searching for trout, which are plentiful here, due to the cold, oxygen-rich water that produces a profusion of insects.

During the winter months, river flows on the Conejos and sections of the upper Rio Grande are historically low, so reservoirs were built to store water upstream for agricultural and community use. Depleting the supply of water on the river at this critical time adversely affects the ability of trout and other aquatic species to survive the winter to reproduce in the spring.   

ECOS provides support to a partnership between Trout Unlimited, agencies, farmers and water managers to help flexibly manage, store and deliver water during the critical winter period, helping increase flow and recharging groundwater on the Conejos and Upper Rio Grande. The project encourages voluntary changes to water usage for the benefit of the environment using creative methods like leasing water, exchanging water at critical times, and shifting the timing of water delivery – enabling partners to keep flows higher on the river as often as they can, improving the fishery habitat while protecting agriculture, communities, and tourism in the region.

We’re happy to report the 2016-2017 pilot implementation of this project resulted in the best winter flows on the Conejos and Upper Rio Grande in recorded history. 

This success has helped the project expand, making a huge difference in the way water is managed in the area, and demonstrating that when we work together, everyone wins – including the trout!