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Restoration of Trout Habitat on the Cimarron River

New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee

Trout habitat conditions are poor during the winter months with low flow conditions and lack of adequate habitat refugia severely limiting the fishery’s potential. Instream flows through this reach are supplied primarily by regulated releases of water from Eagle Nest Dam and are supplemented by Clear Creek and Tolby Creek. The underlying problem with the winter trout habitat through this area is that only a minimal amount of water is released from Eagle Nest Dam during the winter months. The Eagle Nest Dam cuts off approximately 80% of the watershed above the proposed project area when the dam is not releasing water. Instream flows in this reach are almost entirely dependent on water from Clear Creek and Tolby Creek during the winter.

 These chronic, low flows lead to stress on the trout population during the winter in the mainstem of the Cimarron River. This proposed project will address the lack of winter trout habitat within a one mile reach of the Cimarron River.  Improving in-stream habitat diversity and channel function will provide habitat refugia for fish during low flow conditions and will help to ameliorate the environmental stress placed on the trout population.

Project Goals

The goal of this project is to sustainably enhance the function of the Cimarron River to enhance habitat for resident and hatchery stocked trout. Enhancing ecological function of the Cimarron River will improve water quality and quantity, promising positive outcomes for ranchers, municipalities, farmers, businesses, and outdoor recreationists who depend so heavily on the Cimarron River basin. This will be accomplished by reshaping the river channel within its current banks using heavy equipment. These goals were established with consultation and advice from biologists of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Trout Unlimited.

 The Project Goal is to improve trout habitat and fish holding capacity in the Cimarron River by:

  • increasing channel sinuosity and connectivity,

  • establishing low flow channels within the current extents of the bankfull channel while maintaining stable channel geometry;

  • increasing the number and depth of pools; and

  • increasing and diversifying instream fish habitat structures and shelter refugia by installing boulder cross vanes and large woody debris.

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