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Charles Springer, a rancher and entrepreneur in the Cimarron Valley in northern New Mexico, and Neal Solvangen, engineer, built a dam in 1916 on the Cimarron River to capture surplus flows. Eagle Nest Dam and Reservoir can hold up to almost 70,000 acre-feet of water. To help finance the dam, Springer sold some water rights to water from Eagle Nest to farmers. Those original deeded rights became know as the "vested rights".

In 1951 the State District Court adjudicated the entire Cimarron Basin, confirming Springer’s right to store surplus and flood flows in Eagle Nest for later use under State Engineer Permit No. 71. Court cases continued, even moving up to the New Mexico State Supreme Court by 1990.

Over the years, Eagle Nest water rights have been transferred from farming and ranching to meet the needs of growing populations as far away as the cities of Raton and Springer. The Villages of Angel Fire and Eagle Nest have sprung up around the lake and bought rights to Eagle Nest water. Contract, or "Tier-Two" rights, for additional bulk water deliveries were sold.

The City of Raton paid to acquire over 3,000 acre-feet of Eagle Nest water rights and to store and protect any unused allocations. Other municipalities and users have taken the same route.

Shortly before the state acquired the reservoir in 2002, Raton filed a court action to confirm their right to private storage in Eagle Nest. Court-ordered mediation failed. And it looked like the water users in the area were facing years of litigation.

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) was tasked with operating and maintaining Eagle Nest Dam and reservoir. At the same time Eagle Nest water users approached Governor Richardson and asked his help to solve their never-ending water litigation.

The Interstate Stream Commission, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and Bill Hume, the Governor’s Director of Policy gathered the water users together, they presented initial modeling that confirmed there simply wasn’t enough water to meet even the original vested rights, much less additional rights sold over the years.


After two years of litigation including nine months of intense, difficult negotiations water users now have an agreement on water deliveries that can be met by Eagle Nest Reservoir.

Except in the most severe, extended droughts, modeling estimates there will enough water in the lake to sustain the fisheries and recreational values for which the state purchased the Reservoir.

The basics of the settlement include: All users share shortages, in amounts determined by how much water is in the lake on June 1st of each year. All users are treated equally, including the Tier-Two users. Adjustment of allocations and reductions in private storage protect the original vested users.

Governor Richardson and the local parties signed the Eagle Nest Water Rights Settlement on June 2, 2006.

A copy of the Settlement Agreement can be accessed from the link below:

Eagle Nest Reservoir Water Rights Settlement