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Water Supply of the Upper Colorado River Planning Area - Surface Water

Water supplies in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area include Colorado River water, other surface water, groundwater and effluent.  Colorado River water is the primary water supply in the Lake Havasu and Lake Mohave basins.  It is also used to meet environmental water demands for the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in the Sacramento Valley Basin.  Elsewhere, groundwater is the primary water supply.  A discussion of Colorado River water entitlements and accounting can be found here.  However, for the purpose of the Atlas, the subsequent individual basin and water supply and demand discussions report the use of Colorado River water as either groundwater, if it is pumped from a well within the hydraulically connected aquifer, or as surface water when it is directly diverted from the river.

Figure 4.0-14 Water Supplies in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area Water Supply Pie

Surface Water

An average of about 69,800 AFA of surface water was used during 2001-2005, which constitutes about 39% of the total water supply during this period.  Surface water diverted from the Colorado River was the primary water supply in the Lake Mohave Basin (69,000 AFA) where it was the principal supply for agricultural and industrial use, particularly by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.  About 500 acre-feet of surface water from springs near Bagdad in the Bill Williams Basin provided a municipal and industrial supply for the town of Bagdad and the Bagdad mine.  Small volumes of surface water, diverted from the Colorado River, are used in the Detrital Valley and Lake Havasu basins.  Surface water may have been used elsewhere but records are not available.  There are few springs in proximity to water demand centers and, with the exception of the Colorado River, perennial streams are located only in the Bill Williams and Big Sandy basins.  The volume of surface water, groundwater and effluent used in the planning area is shown in Figure 4.0-14.

Legal availability of a surface water supply is 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 4.0-8. 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.  However, the act of filing a statement of claim of rights to use public waters (36) does not in itself create a water right.

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. A court decree, Arizona v. California 373 U.S. 546 (1963), confirmed the apportionment of waters from the mainstem of the Colorado River to the Lower Basin States, set Arizona’s allotment of Colorado River water at 2.8 maf and reserved irrigation water for reservations along the river including the CRIT and Fort Mohave reservations in the planning area.

Colorado River

Colorado River, Lake Mohave Basin

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. The Upper Colorado River Planning Area is outside of the stream adjudication boundaries.

Click to view Figure 4.0-15

Figure 5.0-15 Upper Colorado River Planning Area Registered Wells and Surface Water Diversion Points

Table 4.0-8 summarizes the number of surface water right filings in the planning area. The methodology used to query the Department’s surface water right and statement of claimant (SOC) registries is described in Appendix C.  Of the 9,916 filings that specify surface water diversion points and places of use in the planning area, 1,223 CWRs have been issued to date. Most of these are located in the Bill Williams (713) and Big Sandy (301) basins.  Figure 4.0-15 shows the 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 4.0-15.

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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Bill Williams River Detrital Valley Basin