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Water Supply of the Eastern Plateau Planning Area - Surface Water

Surface water, groundwater and effluent are important watersupplies for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses in the Eastern Plateau Planning Area. As shown in Figure 2.0-15, groundwater is the principal water supply utilized, meeting 61% of the demand on average in 2001-2005. Due to recent drought conditions, some communities that historically used significant amounts of surface water, such as Flagstaff, have turned to more reliable groundwater supplies.  Population growth, supply reliability and the desire for economic development is spurring interest in exploring long-term water supply augmentation options such as securing Colorado River water, constructing water conveyance pipelines and acquiring lands with groundwater supplies.  Effluent is also utilized by several communities for golf course, landscape irrigation and for industrial and agricultural purposes.

Figure 2.0-15 Water Supply Utilized in the Eastern Plateau Planning Area in acre-feet (average annual use 2001-2005)

Eastern Plateau Water Supply

Surface Water

Surface water is a significant water supply in some areas but is geographically limited.  On the Navajo reservation, two-thirds of the average annual surface water originates in the Chuska Mountains and the Defiance Plateau and is locally available for agricultural and domestic use.  Surface water at higher elevations in the southeastern part of the planning area is used primarily for agricultural use, although the Town of Eagar uses a small amount of surface water from Coon Springs (Town of Eagar, 2008). Colorado River water is the water supply for Page and neighboring LeChee.  When there is sufficient rain and snow, surface water is stored in lakes near Flagstaff and used for municipal purposes.

Lower Lake Mary

Lower Lake Mary.  Surface water from the Lake

Mary reservoir system is an important municipal

supply for the City of Flagstaff. 

(Photo courtesy of Coconino National Forest)

Surface water from the Lake Mary reservoir system is an important municipal supply for the City of Flagstaff.  The 30-year median inflow to the system from January to May was 5,000 acre-feet, but due to evaporation and seepage losses, the average availability is approximately 2,250 acre-feet (USBOR, 2006). Because surface water is drought sensitive, it can be unreliable, which has stimulated interest in additional well drilling and development of groundwater supplies in the Flagstaff area.  In wet years, Lake Mary has provided 70% of the City’s water supply (Pinkham and Davis, 2002); however in 1990, 2000 and 2002, there was very little inflow into Lake Mary.  Recently, groundwater use has increased and supplies about 70% of the annual demand (Reed, 2005).

The Salt River Project acquired the rights to the surface water in the C.C. Cragin Reservoir, formerly the Blue Ridge Reservoir, from the Phelps Dodge Corporation in February 2005 as part of the Gila River Indian Water Rights Settlement Act.  In addition to satisfying obligations to the Gila River Indian Community, the reservoir will be used to supplement Salt River Project shareholders’ water supply and as a water supply for northern Gila County (SRP, 2006).  Located near the southwestern boundary of the Eastern Plateau Planning Area on East Clear Creek, this supply is not available to users in the planning area.

The domestic water supply for the City of Page and the neighboring Navajo Nation Chapter of LeChee is obtained from Lake Powell through pumping and conveyance facilities first constructed in 1957.  This water is available pursuant to a Colorado River Upper Basin allocation of 2,740 acre-feet of consumptive use.5  The existing raw water supply facilities marginally meet the current peak demands of the two communities during summer months.  A new lake intake to increase capacity, a new pipeline to LeChee and groundwater well development are being considered to provide a more reliable supply (TETRA TECH RMC, 2003).  In addition, the City of Page has requested an additional allocation of Colorado River water.

Springs are an important water supply for habitat, wildlife, domestic and cultural/religious purposes in parts of the planning area.  On tribal lands, the communities of Tuba City, Moenkopi and Ganado rely on springs for domestic and agricultural uses.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell near Page, Arizona. 

The domestic water supply for the City of Page and the

neighboring Navajo Nation Chapter of LeChee is obtained

from Lake Powell through pumping and

conveyance facilities.

Legal availability of a surface water supply is also an important consideration.  As described in detail in Appendix C, the legal framework and process under which surface water right applications and claims are administered and determined is complex.  Rights to surface water are subject to the doctrine of prior appropriation which is based on the tenet “first in time, first in right”. This means that the person who first put the water to a beneficial use acquires a right that is superior to all other surface water rights with a later priority date. Under the Public Water Code, beneficial use is the basis, measure and limit to the use of water. Each type of surface water right filing is assigned a unique number as explained in Appendix C and shown in Table 2.0-6. The act of filing a statement of claim of rights to use public waters (36) does not in itself create a water right. A Certificate of Water Right (CWR) may be issued if the terms of the permit to appropriate water (3R, 4A, or 33, and in certain cases 38) are met.  CWRs retain the original permit application number.

Table 2.0-6  Count of Surface Water Rights and Adjudication Filings in the Eastern Plateau Planning Area
Basin Type of Filing Total
BB* 3R 4A 33 36 38** 39
Little Colorado River Plateau 134 163 196 373 3,289 3,275 12,099 19,529
This table is based on a query of ADWR's surface water right and adjudication registries in February 2009.  A file is only counted in this table if it provides sufficient information to allow a Point of Diversion (POD) and/or Place of Use (POU) to be mapped within the basin.  If a file lists more than one POD or POU in a given basin, it is only counted once in the table for that basin.  Several surface water right and adjudication filings are not counted here due to unsufficient locational information.  However, multiple filings for the same POD/POU are counted.
* Court decreed rights; not all of these rights have been identified and/or entered into ADWR's surface water rights registry.
† Application to construct a reservoir, filed before 1972 (3R); application to appropriate surface water, filed before 1972 (4A); and application for permit to appropriate public water or construct a reservoir, filed after 1972 (33).
  Statement of claimant of rights to use public waters of the state, filed pursuant to the Water Rights Registration Act of 1974.
**  Claim of water right for a stockpond and application for certification, filed pursuant to the Stockpond Registration Act of 1977.
†† Statement of claimant, filed in the Gila or LCR General Stream Adjudications.

Surface water rights may also be determined through judicial action in state or federal court in which the court process establishes or confirms the validity of the rights and claims and ranks them according to priority. Court decreed rights are considered the most certain surface water right. Major court determinations in the planning area are the Norviel and Concho decrees.  The Norviel Decree is comprised of four judicial actions (between 1914 and 1923) determining rights of landowners to divert surface water in and around Saint Johns to the headwaters of the Little Colorado River. The Concho Decree (1927) determined the relative rights to use surface water from Concho Springs and Concho Creek in Apache County.

Arizona has two general stream adjudications in progress to determine the nature, extent and priority of water rights across the entire river systems of the Gila River and the Little Colorado River. Pertinent to the Eastern Plateau Planning Area, the Little Colorado River (LCR) Adjudication is being conducted in the Superior Court of Arizona in Apache County. The LCR Adjudication was initiated by a petition filed by Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1978. It now covers 27,000 square miles and includes three watersheds (Lower Little Colorado River, Upper Little Colorado River and Silver Creek), 5 Indian reservations (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Fort Apache and San Juan Southern Paiute) and over 3,000 parties.  All parties who claim to have a water right within the river system are required to file a statement of claimant (SOC) (39) or risk loss of their right.  This includes reserved water rights for public lands and Indian reservations which for the most part, have not been quantified or prioritized. Results from the Department’s investigation of surface water right and adjudication filings are presented in Hydrographic Survey Reports (HSRs). Within the Eastern Plateau Planning Area, HSRs have been published for the Silver Creek Watershed (1990), Indian Lands in the Little Colorado River System (1994) and the Hopi Indian Reservation (2008).

Click to view Figure 2.0-16

Table 2.0-6 summarizes the number of surface water right and adjudication filings in the planning area. The methodology used to query the Department’s surface water right and SOC registries is described in Appendix C.  Of the 19,529 filings that specify surface water diversion points and places of use in the planning area, 797 CWRs have been issued to date. Figure 2.0-16 shows the general location of surface water diversion points listed in the Department’s surface water rights registry. The numerous points reflect the large number of stockponds and reservoirs that have been constructed in the planning area as well as diversions from streams and springs. Locations of registered wells, many of which are referenced as the basis of claim in SOCs are also shown in Figure 2.0-16.


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