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Water Supply of the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area - Surface Water

Water Supply in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area includes Surface Water, Groundwater and Effluent.  Local aquifers are the primary water supply for the planning area for municipal, industrial and agricultural use as shown in Figure 3.0-13.  Approximately 15% of the cultural water demand is served by surface water.  Most of the surface water is for agricultural use, and includes diversion from the San Pedro River, Aravaipa Creek and the Gila River. Gila River diversions are substantial, accounting for 92% of all surface water diversions in the planning area during the period 2001-2005. Small amounts of surface water are diverted for municipal use in the Morenci, Upper San Pedro and Willcox Basins and for industrial use in the Morenci Basin.  Some communities utilize effluent for golf course irrigation and for groundwater recharge.  Sites of environmental contamination may impact the availability of water supplies in some locations.

Legal availability of water supplies is an issue in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area. The right to use Gila River water is governed by the Globe Equity Decree (described below). The Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-45) includes settlement of the Gila River Indian Community’s water rights claims in Title II of the Act.  This settlement affects the volume and utilization of groundwater and surface water upstream from the Community in parts of the planning area. (See ADWR, 2006). 

Water supply

Figure 3.0-13 Water Supply Used in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area

Surface Water

Surface water is a municipal supply for the City of Tombstone in the Upper San Pedro Basin, for the town of Morenci in the Morenci Basin and Fort Grant in the Willcox Basin.  The City of Safford uses water collected in an infiltration gallery along Bonita Creek in the Bonita Creek Basin, but for the purposes of this report the water is considered groundwater.  The City of Tombstone began using surface water from springs in the Huachuca Mountains west of Tombstone in 1881 and currently diverts water from Miller and Carr Springs.  This water is conveyed through a more than 25-mile, gravity fed, seven-inch diameter steel pipeline to Tombstone.

Upper Gila River

Water diverted from the Gila River is delivered to Safford

and Duncan Basins for agricultural use.

Surface water is diverted from several rivers in the planning area for agricultural irrigation.  This supply may not always be available when needed.  For example, surface water from the San Pedro River in the vicinity of Saint David is typically only available during the period from November to May.  In addition to diversions from the San Pedro River in the Lower and Upper San Pedro Basins, there are small surface water diversions from Aravaipa Creek in the Lower San Pedro and Aravaipa Canyon basins, and larger diversions from the Gila River.  Water diverted from the Gila River is delivered to agricultural lands in the Safford and Duncan Valley Basins.  When sufficient surface water is not available, the shortfall is made up by additional groundwater withdrawals.  This shortfall may be dramatic. For example, the percentage of surface water used in the Safford and Duncan Valley Basins in 2000 was 27% compared to 60% in 1999.

Phelps Dodge Corporation provides water to the Morenci Mine Complex and the town of Morenci in part through complex exchange agreements involving several water sources, some of which are located outside the planning area.   Currently, Phelps Dodge utilizes exchange credits from both Horseshoe Reservoir on the Verde River and the Central Arizona Project through lease agreements with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, to divert water from the Black River at the Black River Pump Station in the Salt River Basin. This water is pumped over the watershed divide into Willow and Eagle Creeks where it is transported about 51 miles before being commingled with water from Phelps Dodge’s Upper Eagle Creek Well Field.  Phelps Dodge also uses water from Eagle Creek, Chase Creek and the San Francisco River (ADWR, 2005b).  Historically, Phelps Dodge also had water exchange agreements involving Show Low Lake and Blue Ridge Reservoir in the Little Colorado River Basin.  It relinquished its certificated rights to both water sources in 2005.

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 3.0-7. On the other hand, 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.

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. There are several court determinations in the planning area including the Doan and Jenkes decrees involving landowners, canal companies and irrigation water users in the Safford Valley, the Ling Decree in the San Francisco River Valley and Duncan Valley, and the Globe Equity No.59 Decree. In 1935 the U.S. District Court entered a consent decree (Globe Equity No. 59) for all diversions of the mainstem of the Gila River from confluence with the Salt River to the headwaters in New Mexico, including the Gila River and San Carlos Apache reservations, and non-Indian landowners below and above Coolidge Dam. It awarded rights to use water on lands within the Gila River Indian Reservation with a priority date of “time immemorial” and also awarded rights to the San Carlos Apache Tribe with a priority date of 1846. Rights and priority dates were established for non-Indian land in the San Carlos Project area including the Safford Valley, the Duncan Valley and the Winkelman Valley (Pearce, 2002). The Gila Water Commissioner is appointed by the US District Court to administer the Decree.  Each year the Commissioner issues a report on the distribution of waters of the Gila River.


San Francisco River

San Francisco River near Clifton.  There are several

court determinations in the planning area including the Doan and Jenkes decrees involving landowners, canal companies and irrigation water users in the Safford Valley, the Ling Decree in the San Francisco River Valley and Duncan Valley, and the Globe Equity No.59 Decree.

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 Southeastern Arizona Planning Area, the Gila River Adjudication is being conducted in the Superior court of Arizona in Maricopa County. The Gila Adjudication was initiated by petitions filed by several parties in the 1970’s, including Salt River Project, Phelps Dodge Corporation and the Buckeye Irrigation Company. The petitions were consolidated in 1981 into a single proceeding. The Gila Adjudication includes seven adjudication watersheds; Upper Salt, San Pedro, Agua Fria, Upper Gila, Lower Gila, Verde, and Upper Santa Cruz. The entire Upper Gila and San Pedro adjudication watersheds and part of the Upper Santa Cruz watershed are within the planning area boundaries. These watersheds do not coincide with the 6-digit HUC watersheds discussed previously and shown in Figure 3.0-5. The Willcox, Douglas and San Bernardino Valley basins are not included within the adjudication boundary. 

The entire Gila Adjudication includes over 24,000 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 Southeastern Arizona Planning Area, an HSR has been published for the San Pedro River Watershed (ADWR, 1991). In conjunction with the Gila Adjudication, the Subflow Technical Report San Pedro River Watershed was published in 2002.


Click to view Figure 3.0-14

Figure 3.0-14 Southeastern Arizona Planning Area Registered Wells and Surface Water Diversion Points

Table 3.0-7 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 36,483 filings that specify surface water diversion points and places of use in the planning area, 2,766 CWRs have been issued to date. Figure 3.0-14 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 3.0-14.

The location of surface water resources are shown on surface water condition maps and maps showing perennial and intermittent streams and major springs for each basin, and in basin tables that contain data on streamflow, flood ALERT equipment, reservoirs, stockponds and springs.



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