Water Rights Workshop- November 4th- Documentation


Arizona Department Water Resources Contacts List

*Click on image to download.



INtro to Surface water rights

An Introduction to Surface Water Rights in Arizona, and for the Verde Valley

Realty and title

Realty and Title Agency Water Rights Workshop




Ground Water |   Surface Water | the Adjudication Process

Understanding the Many Roles of this Important Aspect in Real Estate Transactions

It all starts with the land… When the land was originally patented from the US Government, it had all the “Bundle of Rights” that went with it.   More here —Land Patent.

Without water, the land is basically not very useful. More here–The Land Is Perfect but there is No Water.

The Real Estate Transaction~ getting title insurance does not insure your water rights! The ownership of water rights is decided through the water courts. More here.

Surface Water Arizona is a prior use law state and putting the water to beneficial use is the key.

Ground Water follows the Reasonable Use Doctrine

Arizona State Water Rights Basics~

Arizona, like most other Western states, follows the prior appropriation system for surface water and it has since the enactment of Arizona’s first territorial water code in 1864.  In those days, a water user acquired a right to use water by putting water to beneficial use.  Now, a permit is required.  Groundwater, however, is not generally subject to a prior appropriation system, and follows the “reasonable use” doctrine where it is not regulated under the Groundwater Management Act in specific areas of the state. Water rights are administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (DWR).

The distinction between surface water and groundwater was judicially defined in the 1932 case Maricopa County Water Conservation Dist. No. 1 v. Southwest Cotton Co., 39 Ariz. 65, 4 P.2d 369, modified and  denied, 39 Ariz. 367, 7 P.2d 254 (1932).  The Southwest Cotton court defined appropriable water to include the “underflow, sub flow or undercurrent … of a surface stream.”  The “sub flow” was defined as “those waters which slowly find their way through the sand and gravel constituting the bed of the stream, or the lands under or immediately adjacent to the stream, and are themselves a part of the surface stream.”  39 Ariz. at 96.

Groundwater not “immediately adjacent” to a stream is not appropriable, and it is referred to as “percolating groundwater.”  Although later courts have acknowledged that this division of water underground is a legal fiction that does not make sense hydrologically, they have refused to change the distinction.  In an opinion issued last September, the Arizona Supreme Court attempted to further refine the definition of sub flow in the Gila River System to a particular hydrologic unit in the system, the saturated flood plain Holocene alluvium. In re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Gila River System and Source, Ariz. 9 P.3d 1069 (2000) (Gila River IV).[2]

To further complicate groundwater matters, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an opinion in 1999 that federal reserved water rights, notably for Indian reservations, transcend and trump state water law.  In re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Gila River System and Source, 195 Ariz. 411, 989 P.2d 739 (1999), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 2705 (2000) (Gila River III).  The high court ruled:  (1) federal reserved water rights extend to groundwater that is not subject to prior appropriation under Arizona law to the extent that groundwater is necessary to accomplish the purpose of a federal reservation, and (2) federal reserved right holders are entitled to greater protection from groundwater pumping than are water users who hold only state law rights.  This means the holder of a federal reserved right to either appropriable surface water or non-appropriable percolating groundwater may be able to enjoin pumping of percolating groundwater that interferes with the use of the federal right, even though a state law user of either appropriable surface water or non-appropriable percolating groundwater would have no similar right to enjoin an interfering use of percolating groundwater.

A statutory system to regulate surface water was adopted in 1919…after which, water users must apply for permits to appropriate surface water.  Most surface water was appropriated early on, and some judicial decrees were issued, but they did not explicitly quantify the reserved rights held for Indian reservations. Two large general stream adjudications (on the Gila and Little Colorado rivers) are now under way to sort out the relative rights of most of the water users in Arizona.  Technically, people can still apply for surface water rights, but very little is available.

New groundwater developments are possible in the Active Management Areas (AMAs), as detailed below.  Outside of AMAs, reasonable use is still the standard, except that some people believe Gila IV expanded the definition of “sub flow” to the point where no percolating groundwater is left.

If water rights are not put to beneficial use for five years, they may be forfeited. As in other Western states, rights may be abandoned if the user fails to use the water and intends to abandon the associated water right.  Gila Water Co. v. Green, 29 Ariz. 304, 241 Pac. 307 (1925).  Changes in the point of diversion, place and purpose of use require application to the DWR and are subject to public notice and protest.  More here–State Water Rights Basics.

Water Right Ownership and Title Examination~ In Arizona, there are several different types of surface and groundwater rights, with several different types of proof of the rights.  In general, except for decreed rights, the DWR has ownership and assignment records.  However, for surface rights in particular, due diligence should include a title search of the land associated with the water right.  Title to groundwater rights can be held separately from the land, and title can be searched through DWR records only.

Arizona state law provides for four types of surface water rights~ All types of surface water rights should be conveyed by deed, not a bill of sale. Notice of the conveyance should be filed with DWR using the DWR’s forms, except for decreed rights.  The first type of a surface water right is one acquired before June 12, 1919, which is evidenced with a statement of claim filed with DWR. The second type of surface right is one acquired after June 12, 1919, pursuant to an application and permit to appropriate water. DWR issues a Certificate of Water Right as evidence of these rights.

The third type of surface water right is a stock pond right. DWR evidences these rights with a Registration of Stock pond filed with DWR and, on rare occasions, with a Certificate of Stock pond Right.  The fourth type of surface water right is a decreed right. These rights have been adjudicated and confirmed by a court. No readily accessible repository exists for these rights, although DWR often has information regarding decreed rights.

Groundwater in Arizona is heavily regulated~ even though the state generally follows the “reasonable use” doctrine instead of the prior appropriation doctrine for groundwater. The Arizona statutes designate AMAs in areas where groundwater aquifers are at risk of being rapidly depleted and provide stringent regulations in those areas. The AMAs include the Phoenix AMA, the Pinal AMA, the Tucson AMA, the Prescott AMA, and the Santa Cruz AMA. Elsewhere in the state, areas have been designated as irrigation non-expansion areas, In these areas, groundwater use is not as heavily regulated as in the AMAs, but new irrigated acreage cannot be developed.

Within the AMAs~ all the types of water rights should be conveyed by deed and the Notice of Conveyance must be filed with the DWR The first type of groundwater right is an irrigation grandfathered groundwater right, which allows the right holder to withdraw and use groundwater for irrigation purposes on a specific piece of property. The DWR issues a certificate of irrigation grandfathered groundwater right as evidence of the right.  Irrigation rights are appurtenant to the land that was historically irrigated and can be conveyed only with that land.[113] In some circumstances, irrigation rights can be retired and converted into Type I non-irrigation rights (discussed below) or can be extinguished to obtain credits that can be used in proving an assured water supply.[114]

Type I non-irrigation grandfathered groundwater rights originate from retired irrigation acreage. The DWR issues a certificate of Type 1 non-irrigation grandfathered groundwater right for a specific amount of water. The right is appurtenant to the historically irrigated acres, but it can only be used for non-irrigation purposes.[116] In limited circumstances, the water withdrawn pursuant to a Type 1 right may be used on land other than the appurtenant acreage.[117] Type 1 rights sometimes can be extinguished to obtain credits that can be used for proving an assured water supply.[118]

The use of Type II non-irrigation grandfathered groundwater rights is less restricted than other groundwater rights in an AMA. The DWR issues a certificate of Type 2 non-irrigation grandfathered groundwater right for a specific amount of water for non-irrigation purposes.  Type 2 rights are freely transferable within the AMA subject only to well spacing requirements.  The right can be leased in whole or in part.[119] In some circumstances, Type 2 rights may be extinguished to obtain credits that can be used to prove an assured water supply.[120]

Within an AMA, it also may be possible to obtain permits to withdraw and use groundwater for the following purposes, general industrial use, dewatering, mining, poor quality groundwater use, temporary electrical generation or dewatering, drainage, and hydrologic testing.  These permits generally are of a short (less than 50 years) duration and are, in most cases, transferable.

The final type of groundwater right in an AMA is a withdrawal from an exempt well.  An exempt well is a well with a maximum pump capacity of 35 gallons per minute.  Exempt wells drilled (or in progress) before April 28, 1983, can be used to divert up to 56 acre feet per year for non-irrigation purposes. Exempt wells drilled after April 28, 1983, can be used to withdraw up to 10 acre feet per year for domestic and stock watering purposes.

Water Rights Due Diligence~ If you are not on municipal water be sure and check out your property whether you have a well or not.  Check with the professionals to find out if there is adequate water in the area, a good well driller educated in the area you are purchasing in is a great source of information to you.  The Arizona Department of Water has lots of informative information about the area and records of wells that perhaps are close to where you will be purchasing.  Know what quality of water is in the area, if a well exists on the property you are purchasing be sure to get a water test for drinking purposes and what systems are recommended to add to your water to make it safe and potable.  A well driller can tell you the GPM, depth and condition of the well.  They can do testing for you.  Records of your well should be on file with the ADWR with a file number – these records can be downloaded for your reference.  A well will need to be transferred at the time of sale to the buyer and there should also be a transfer of the Statement of Claimant which gave notice to the court during the Adjudication process ongoing that the well was transferred to the new buyer.  This form must be signed by the seller to the buyer.  If there is no record of filing then a late filing needs to be filled out and filed with the ADWR.  Their forms are easily accessible on their website. Arizona Department of Water

Surface Water Rights also should be on file with the Arizona Department of Water and need to be transferred as well.

If you are purchasing property with surface water rights or a property that has grandfathered water rights to be transferred be sure a consult with a good water attorney to make sure your Due Diligence check list has been done when it comes to the water rights.  A couple of excellent firms below:

Schroeder Law Offices “We do Everything Water”

Excellent Water Attorney Carlos D. Ronstadt


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Sedona-Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument Proposal

The Sedona-Verde Valley is buzzing with discourse concerning a proposal initiated by the KSB Keep Sedona Beautiful to designate approximately 160,000 acres in, and around, the Sedona-Verde Valley into a National Monument
Recently, public meetings in both Sedona and Cottonwood initiated separate and different responses from the folks in attendance.  (See Verde Independent article here.)
While Sedona’s wilderness areas, Coconino National  Forest and some private lands would take the brunt from the proposed National Monument, additional areas which  spread from the Sycamore Canyon Verde River forested area, above Clarkdale to the Beaver Creek wetlands in Lake Montezuma/Rimrock are included.   Private lands on Red Rock Loop Road, Sedona, AZ are also included. KSB has extended the boundaries to include the Trout Farm up Oak Creek Canyon. This expansive area includes lands that our Sedona – Verde Valley depends on for water resources which feed our valley and beyond, recreation areas we have all enjoyed, and range lands with current permits used by ranchers for decades.

KSB a private, special interest group, and their President O’Halleran, a former Senator of AZ,  is working around the clock, meeting behind closed doors, seeking approval from various incorporated city and town council members to obtain their support. Current KSB meetings have taken place for the purpose of creating a Letter of Intent, which has now transformed into a “Management Recommendations In Support of the Monument Values.” KSB is moving rapidly to submit their plan to the US Department of the Interior in conjunction with the Coconino National Forest for their consideration in implementing it into the final Management plan of these proposed lands which will affect everyone who lives here.  KSB has taken on the self-proclaimed role as representatives for the voice of the public, approximately 80,000 people who reside in the entire Sedona-Verde Valley region. Their focus and thrust is to complete this process so that President Obama will sign these lands into a national monument, prior to the time he leaves office, very soon.

It would seem that “no time to waste” is their motto, and no time to answer a lot of important questions on the minds of the property owners and professionals, posed in these public meetings and elsewhere in the Sedona-Verde Valley. Many people, including those in public office, still have unanswered questions and want to be clear before making their decision because they know that there is no going back once these lands have been signed into national monument status.

Property owners in the Sedona-Verde Valley want to know how the  designation of national monument  will affect the Sedona-Verde Valley private lands which surround the proposed monument. They want to know how the boundaries will affect these private lands and the vital water resources originating on these lands which provide water to the Sedona-Verde Valley and beyond. Folks also want to know how the present designation of national forest  will change if these lands become a national monument.

The biggest question from residents has been Water Rights and how the Sedona-Verde Valley water rights, now under the adjudication process for next couple of decades will be affected by national monument status. Even though the Arizona state courts will be the ones who adjudicate the water rights and will be making the determination, there seems to be a larger more important question about how that will change if  these lands become a national monument. Some of the primary headwaters originate on these lands to form our surface waters, streams, rivers, creeks and artesian water areas that make the Sedona-Verde Valley such a wonderful place to live.

How are National Monuments Created~

The Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, authorizes the president to single-handedly designate any federal public lands as national monuments. 

The Antiquities Act is, as its name suggests, “a 100 year old law in desperate need of reform,” says some of our US Senators. WASHINGTON – U.S. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Arizona, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Utah, introduced a bill Thursday, S. 1416, aiming to prevent the President from changing the existing water-rights designation, of lands declared to be national monuments, to federal senior rights.

When the President federalizes land by declaring it a national monument, he can both limit public access and change the water rights associated with the land. In short, the President can unilaterally expand the federal-reserved water rights associated with existing federal lands simply by cloaking it as a National Monument.

“It is unimaginable that the president can expand federal reserved water rights simply with the stroke of a pen,” Flake says. “It’s time to veto the presidential water right – and safeguard private property rights – by limiting this kind of unchecked authority.” More HERE.


How will national monument status affect one of the oldest businesses (ranching) in the Sedona-Verde Valley?  What will be the affect on  the forest and BLM Lands? In talking with one of the oldest families in the Cottonwood area who has ranched here since the early 1900’s, Mr. Andy Groseta states, “if the monument is passed, that will be the end of ranching as we know it and it will potentially cause ranchers to close up shop.” Cattle graze these lands by permit from the Forest and BLM; under The Antiquities Act, that will be prohibited. Grazing is a natural way to manage the forest lands for the control of vegetation which can get out of hand and create forest fires.


The valley is a great place and environment for farming. Cornville, Camp Verde and Rimrock are rich in surface water rights. Farming is ongoing now and planned for the future.  Our farming community and special interest groups  are already planning on creating a food source right here in the Sedona-Verde Valley and water rights and ranching are a big part of getting that very positive job done. This too may be greatly affected, or no longer an option, if the Federal government declares that the water is theirs under national monument rule and ranching is no longer allowed. Local residents realize we need industries other than tourism to have sustainable and positive growth for the future of the Sedona-Verde Valley.

Roads, Easements, Utility Extensions, 404 Permits needed to access private lands~

In talking with engineers whose business is to create plans and apply for permits for these things, it is stressful to know that the extra layer of government as Monument Lands will make it even more difficult to go through the process to provide utilities, roads and extensions needed to serve private lands.

As they put it, “you will have more environmental studies and NEPA studies than already exists as Monument Lands. It will be another deeper layer of Government Rules that will limit or in some cases stop this process through the years of environmental studies that will keep being requested or denied. “

Private lands bordering National Monuments are looked at, by the BLM and Forest Lands, as areas to limit growth and density.

monuments.-WidePar-00010-Image.WideParimage.1.2Agua Fria National Monument in Mayer, AZ is a prime example of this. With over 800 acres of private lands that have been blocked by the Forest Service and the BLM. They have turned down applications for access and utilities to these private lands. Their vision is for no growth or very limited growth on those private lands to not impact their Monument and the Management Plan in place. While the BLM states that they want to acquire these private lands, they have no funds to do so.  Meanwhile private property owners cannot sell their land for anything but grazing or ranch land because of the limited access, lack of utilities, no emergency vehicle access, and only narrow dirt private easements over floodway land of the Sycamore Creek. Private Property owners are hurt and the value of their land is diminished by the Monument Plan in place and the Forest Service following out that plan for their intended purpose. These private lands are just 300 feet off of a county maintained recorded road. None the less these obstacles exists.

Protecting of Antiquities and the history of our beautiful Sedona-Verde Valley~

Let’s take a look at this aspect. Certainly we all want to protect our heritage and history of these beautiful forests and wilderness areas we live on and around.

Do we not already have laws that prohibit the taking of antiquities or disturbing Indian Ruins? We most certainly do. The current laws prohibit and protect from such offenses already. It is redundant to add another layer of government regulations and enforcement in this regard. The Verde Valley Archeology Center presently has three grants for site Protection. Read more here.

The limiting of any forest service trade on Monument land~

If our lands become a designated national monument,  it would remove the option for trading forest land for private lands. However, let’s take a deeper look. The Forest Service already has a management plan in place. Amendment 12 has been worked on and recently finalized.  With Amendment 12 in place  they are most likely not going to allow these lands to be traded. Click for Frequently asked questions about Amendment 12.

The Forest Service works in conjunction with the county, cities and towns. Collectively they will only trade properties that are up against private lands that are needed for growth per their management plan. The forest service desires to acquire in-holdings of private land completely surrounding Forest Lands.

In years past a substantial amount of existing private lands in Sedona were created in this manner, by forest service trade. For example, the Miller family was a big part of this positive growth and developed some of the nicest subdivisions in Sedona proper, such as Foothills South and North. The Forest Service acquired lands that were inholdings in exchange for lands against private lands with a good plan in mind prior to the consummation of these transactions.

Let’s take a look at current existing Sedona-Verde Valley Groups with management and positive guided interests to protect, preserve and plan for a wonderful Sedona-Verde Valley

We have the scenic Green Preservation for the Verde River – this is funded by Grants already to go in and make these water ways healthy and there are areas that are put into preservation lands limiting development on these areas all over the Sedona-Verde Valley where it is applicable to do so and property owners have elected to go through this process.

Click here to see a list of some of these groups.

The Sedona-Verde Valley is growing in a positive and exciting way to promote a clean eco-tourism through growing of crops, grapes, embracing art, culture growth and development; providing a centralized trading center, tourist and promoting educational growth.

Having a national monument to bring in additional funding is questionable based on funding history of existing monuments that Obama has put in place.  Congress has been blocking funding because of the aforementioned concerns, on monument lands. One thing is certain however, national monuments add another layer of Government and may limit the citizens rights which they have enjoyed for several hundred years on and surrounding these lands.

Are we not already working together to build and preserve a wonderful Sedona-Verde Valley?

Let’s look again and answer that question each and every one of us.

While we continue to protect our lands, both private and federal let’s not, in the process take away more than we are hoping to receive.

Let’s think big and hard about what we are doing and what we want to wind up with. After all, we are the people and we are the government. Do we need an overseer to tell us exactly what to do and when to do it or, can we be united and do it ourselves?

You make the decision. Do not let someone else do it for you! Speak your own mind and heart. Don’t be silent; be united. It’s up to you: the people. We are a group of around 80,000 people and we need to be heard.

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