Dealing with Water

Speaker: Cleave Simpson – General Manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) in Alamosa Colorado. 

The Rio Grande basin in Colorado is a highly over appropriated system.  Both the surface water system and the groundwater system have more applications/allocations of water than we have supply to fill.  We operate under the doctrine of prior appropriation with surface water rights decreed in the 1850’s and 1860’s.  Groundwater rights became much more prolific in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.  The lack of understanding of the connectivity of the surface water and groundwater systems in this basin set us up for many years of legal battles and pitting surface water users against groundwater users.  The basin is hydrologically complicated with a shallow “unconfined” aquifer and a deeper “confined” aquifer, both of which respond very well to active management, less withdrawals and/or more recharge.  The legal and engineering applications in our complicated system lag reality by about 60 years and are just now catching up.  We are actively working to address the decade’s old issue of groundwater/surface water interactions as well as creating and maintaining healthy aquifer systems.  The communities, economies and culture of this basin were developed around irrigated agriculture.  Our increasing reliance on groundwater coupled with declining supplies, less snowpack and lower runoffs, have challenged the resilience and the foundation of our communities.


The District was created by the Colorado General Assembly and formed in 1967 by a vote of the people residing within its boundaries. The RGWCD was created to protect, enhance and develop water resources in the Rio Grande River basin inside the state of Colorado. The district encompasses a five county region, which includes Alamosa, Rio Grande, Conejos and portions of Saguache and Mineral Counties within the Rio Grande River basin.  The District is playing an active role in assisting the community more closely balance our water demands with our water supplies.  Pretty challenging in a highly over appropriated basin.

A 1984 graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Mining Engineering, my wife Cathy and I spent time living and working in Texas and Australia in the mining business before returning home in 2013 to be close to family and friends.

I also currently serve on the Board of Trustees at Adams State University, recently stepping down as Chairman of the Board.  Water wasn’t controversial enough so I got involved in higher education opportunities.

When not working on Valley water issues, farming and ranching, or participating in Adams State obligations, I enjoy classic American Hot Rods, particularly my 1957 Chevy Cameo pickup, as well as spending time camping and fishing with my wife.