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Securing Arizona's Water Future
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Public Information Officer


Missions and Goals


In 1980, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) was created to secure long-term dependable water supplies for Arizona's communities.
The Department:

  • administers and enforces Arizona’s groundwater code, and surface water rights laws (except those related to water quality);
  • negotiates with external political entities to protect Arizona's Colorado River water supply;
  • oversees the use of surface and groundwater resources under state jurisdiction, and
  • represents Arizona in discussions of water rights with the federal government.

In addition, the Department explores methods of augmenting water supplies to meet future demands, and develops policies that promote conservation and equitable distribution of water.  The Department also inspects dams and participates in flood control planning to prevent property damage, personal injury, and loss of life.  In support of these activities, ADWR collects and analyzes data on water levels and on water-quality characteristics.  Other responsibilities include management of floodplains and non-federal dams to reduce loss of life and damage to property.

ADWR is not a municipal water provider. The Department holds no rights to water anywhere.


The ADWR Director is appointed by the Governor and requires Senate confirmation. There have been nine directors of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. They are:

Wesley E. Steiner 1980-1985
Kathleen Ferris 1985-1987
Alan P. Kleinman 1987-1988
Nelson W. Plummer 1988-1991
Elizabeth Rieke 1991-1993
Rita P. Maguire 1993-2001
Joseph C. Smith 2001-2003
Herbert R. Guenther 2003-2011
Sandra A. Fabritz-Whitney 2011-2014
Michael J. Lacey 2014-2015
Thomas Buschatzke 2015-Present

ADWR Annual Reports Acrobat Icon pdf








Groundwater Management

To address groundwater depletion in the state's most populous areas, the state legislature created the Groundwater Management Code in 1980 and directed ADWR to implement it. The goal of the Code is twofold: 1) to control severe groundwater depletion, and 2) to provide the means for allocating Arizona's limited groundwater resources to most effectively meet the state's changing water needs. This effort to manage Arizona's groundwater resources was so progressive that in 1986 the Code was named one of the ten most innovative programs in state and local government by the Ford Foundation and Harvard University. When granting the award, it was noted that no other state had attempted to manage its water resources so comprehensively. Accordingly, Arizona built consensus around its policy and then followed through to make it work in practice.

Active Management Areas  - Areas where groundwater depletion is most severe are designated as Active Management Areas (AMAs). There are five AMAs: Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, and Santa Cruz. These areas are subject to regulation pursuant to the Groundwater Code. In the Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson AMAs, the primary management goal is to achieve safe-yield by the year 2025. Safe-yield is accomplished when no more groundwater is being withdrawn than is being annually replaced. In the Pinal AMA, where the economy is primarily agricultural, the management goal is to preserve that economy for as long as feasible, while considering the need to preserve groundwater for future non-irrigation uses. The Santa Cruz AMA is currently at the safe-yield status The goal of the AMA is to maintain the safe-yield status and prevent local water tables from experiencing long-term decline. Each AMA carries out its programs in a manner consistent with these goals while considering and incorporating the unique character of each AMA and its water users.

Management Plans - Management plans reflect the evolution of the Groundwater Code, moving Arizona toward its long-term water management goals. Management plans are required from each AMA for five sequential management periods extending from 1980 through 2025. The First Management Plan applied from 1985-1990. The Second Management Plan was in effect until 2000, and the Third Management Plan from 2001 until 2010.

ADWR is in the initial stages of formulating the Fourth Management Plan (FMP), scheduled for adoption before 2010. The provisions of the FMP will be in effect from 2010-2020.

Assured and Adequate Water Supply Programs - The Groundwater Code established requirements to ensure that water supplies are adequate to meet the long-term needs of new development. The Assured Water Supply Program requires new subdivisions within AMAs to demonstrate that sufficient water supplies of adequate quality are physically, continuously and legally available for 100 years. New rules associated with this program promote the use of renewable supplies, such as effluent and water delivered via the Central Arizona Project, as a component of an assured supply.

For areas outside AMAs, the Adequate Water Supply Program requires that a potential buyer be informed of the water status of the property, but does not prevent the sale of property when a 100-year supply is not available. Requirements under these programs serve to protect consumers against the sale of subdivided land that lacks an available long-term source of water.

Recharge Programs - Provisions for recharge programs included in the Groundwater Code allow injection of surface water or treated wastewater into an aquifer for storage. Through recharge programs, surplus renewable water supplies can be stored for use in the future.

Water Bank - The 1996 Legislature created the Arizona Water Banking Authority, a state sponsored recharge program. By storing surplus Colorado River water in central and southern Arizona, the Authority will help safeguard against future shortages on the Colorado River and assist in meeting the state's groundwater management goals. ADWR provides staff support to the Authority.

Surface Water Management

ADWR's surface water activities are focused in four areas: Adjudications, Colorado River Management, Flood Warning and Dam Safety, and Statewide Water Resource Planning.

Adjudications - The State of Arizona is conducting a general stream adjudication of water rights in two major portions of the state: the Gila and Little Colorado River systems. Adjudications are State Superior Court determinations of the status of all rights to surface water based upon state law and all claims to surface water based upon federal law within the river systems. The adjudications process will identify and rank the rights to use water for the users in these areas. ADWR's role in the process is to provide both administrative and technical assistance to the State Superior Court.

Colorado River Management - Renewable water supplies of the Colorado River serve seven states and several Indian tribes. ADWR strives to promote, protect, and comprehensively manage Arizona's entitlement of 2.8 million acre-feet annually of Colorado River water. This entitlement is Arizona's water supply for future growth and critical to the state's progressive water management policies.

Flood Warning and Dam Safety - ADWR is responsible for the management of non-federal dams to reduce loss of life and damage to property. Responsibilities include conducting safety inspections of dams and participating in the development of flood warning systems.

Statewide Planning - ADWR conducts statewide water resource planning. Statewide planning efforts include technical studies of local areas and assistance in projecting future water demands. ADWR produces the Arizona Water Resources Assessment, an extensive inquiry into the state's water status, to assist long-term planning. ADWR also provides staff support for the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission, which was created by the legislature to preserve and enhance flows in rivers and streams and their associated riparian habitats. The fifteen commission members reflect a wide range of interests, including representatives from municipal, agricultural and industrial water users as well as from environmental organizations.

Administration Of Water Rights

Since groundwater use in AMAs is regulated, groundwater pumping in these areas requires a permit from ADWR. On most of these wells state law assesses withdrawal fees and requires annual groundwater withdrawal and use reports to be filed. Groundwater use outside AMAs is not regulated and does not require a permit. Importantly, drilling a well anywhere in the state requires that a Notice of Intent to Drill be filed with ADWR.

Surface water is subject to the "doctrine of prior appropriation," meaning that the first person to put the water to beneficial and reasonable use has a right superior to later appropriations. Rights to use surface water are designated through a permitting process at ADWR. Surface water permits may be used to support claims in the adjudications process. ADWR maintains records related to water rights in both computer and physical files, which are available to the public.

Hydrology Support

ADWR hydrologists serve as the technical arm of the department, collecting and analyzing statewide water resource data and maintaining the state's Groundwater Site Inventory (GWSI) database. Hydrologic conditions are calculated and analyzed in preparing reports in response to legislative and judicial request, public inquiries and water management planning efforts. ADWR hydrologists are often recruited to work on the scientific components of specific research projects and are also consulted in making determinations on permit applications