Welcome to the Lower Gunnison Watershed

The Western Slope Conservation Center acknowledges that the Western Colorado lands on which we learn, work, and organize are the traditional, ancestral, and unceded homelands of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) peoples.

Our watershed is located in western Colorado’s Gunnison and Delta counties. It includes the towns of Somerset, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford, Cedaredge, Eckert, Orchard City, and City of Delta. The watershed is home to five wilderness areas: The Raggeds Wilderness, West Elk Wilderness,Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness, and the Dominguez Wilderness. We are also home to Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area.

The Lower Gunnison Watershed is a diverse and complex landscape where we can all thrive. The Conservation Center provides and maintains an interactive map that includes a wealth of information to help you better understand and explore your watershed. Layers include oil & gas leases and wells, irrigation ditches, restoration sites, soil data, USFS recreation routes, and more.


The variety contained within these watersheds is inspiring

…high-alpine tundra, spruce and fir-covered mountainsides, old-growth aspen groves, sage and juniper mesas, adobe badlands, desert grasslands, red rock canyonlands, the two-thousand-foot deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and critical riparian corridors for migratory and over-wintering birds. 

Annual precipitation within the watersheds ranges from 42 inches on Grand Mesa to 9 inches where the Gunnison meets the Colorado River.

  • Federally Owned Public Land
  • Other

Seventy six percent (76%) of the watershed is federally owned public land.

The US Forest Service manages land in the upper watershed as part of the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison National Forest (GMUG). The BLM manages much of the lower watershed as part of the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO).


In the Lower Gunnison Basin average annual precipitation is only 19 inches, with most regions getting from 12-18 inches. The driest part of the basin is in Peach Valley east of Delta, with less than 8 inches of precipitation annually. The mountain areas are the wettest with the Grand Mesa and West Elk Mountains receiving more than 40 inches annually – mostly in the form of snow.


The watershed provides habitat for a variety of aquatic species, including native fish species such as the Colorado River cutthroat trout, flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, roundtail chub, mottled sculpin, and speckled dace.  Our watersheds provide world-class fishing and rafting, with 67 miles managed for Colorado River Cutthroat trout conservation.  Species of concern that live within these watersheds include: the northern leopard frog, peregrine falcon, whooping crane, southwest willow flycatcher, bald eagle, greater sandhill crane, western yellow-billed cuckoo, and the river otter. A thorough report on wildlife is available at the Colorado National Heritage Program.


The Lower Gunnison Watershed includes the North Fork, Smith Fork, Surface Creek and Lower Gunnison River below the Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa, Crystal and Morrow Point dams). River flows can be highly variable depending on snowmelt. Agriculture is the dominant water use in the basin, accounting for as much as 98% of water withdrawals. The Gunnison River is home to a world-renowned trout fishery.