Summary

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 45-465, only land associated with a Certificate of Irrigation Grandfathered Right (IGFR) can be legally irrigated with groundwater within an Active Management Area (AMA). IGFRs were issued by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) based on irrigated acreage from 1975 to 1980. To irrigate means to grow crops for sale, human consumption or livestock or poultry feed by applying water on two or more acres (A.R.S. § 45-402(18))

A Certificate of Irrigation Grandfathered Right is a right to irrigate land in an active management area that was legally irrigated any time between January 1, 1975 and January 1, 1980. The process for determining acreage and for calculating a groundwater allocation is specified in A.R.S. § 45-465.

Did you know?

  • The Agricultural sector accounted for 72% of Arizona’s total water use in 2019. 
  • There are 223 active BMP Farm Units operating within the AMAs.

For data related to the Agricultural Program, see the AMA Data Page.

Agricultural conservation programs

ADWR is required by statute to develop and administer an Agricultural Conservation Program in all five AMAs and for all five management periods. Currently, there are three conservation programs in which Irrigation Grandfathered Rights are enrolled: The Base Program, The Best Management Practices Program, and The Historic Cropping Program:

Base Program

Each IGFR owner and any person entitled to use groundwater pursuant to the right is regulated under the Base Program unless an application for regulation under an alternative conservation program is approved by ADWR. 

IGFR’s operating under the Base Program are assigned water duties and allotments based on crop type grown during 1975 to 1980.

ADWR maintains an operating flexibility account for each IGFR in the Base Program. This allows IGFRs to borrow or bank groundwater from year to year to allow for varying climatic and market conditions. Flexibility account credits can be used at any time in future years on the same farm unit and may be used to offset debits. Under certain conditions, IGFR owners regulated under the Base Program may transfer, convey, or acquire flexibility credits (A.R.S. § 45-467(O)).

Best Management Practices Program

The Best Management Practices (BMP) Program is an alternative conservation program designed to be at least as effective in achieving water conservation as the Base Program while providing greater flexibility to program participants.

The BMP Program is characterized by an IGFR owner’s commitment to implement specific agricultural conservation practices that involve on-farm irrigation system improvements and other improved methods for farm water management, referred to as Best Management Practices.

Under the BMP Program, it is possible to enroll multiple IGFRs under a single BMP farm as long as the IGFRs are either contiguous or in close proximity to each other and part of a single farm unit. Farms enrolled in the BMP Program are excused from their annual conservation allotment and have their flex accounts frozen so that neither flex credits are accrued nor debits subtracted.

ADWR, with the assistance of the agricultural community, develops a menu of approved BMPs listed in the Management Plans to ensure that individual farmers can select methods that provide the greatest opportunity for increased water savings and efficient operation of their farms. Best Management Practices (Appendix 4B) are listed in the Management Plans for each Active Management Area.

Historic Cropping Program

The Historic Cropping Program is an alternative conservation program developed by ADWR where accrued flexibility account credits are limited to 75 percent of the farm’s annual allotment. A negative flexibility account balance that exceeds 25 percent of the annual allotment constitutes a violation of the conservation requirement. Flexibility account credits can be used at any time in future years and may be used to offset debits. Participants in the Historic Cropping Program are not allowed to convey, sell or acquire flexibility account credits.

Integrated Farm Program

The Integrate Farm Program is an alternative conservation program created with input and feedback from the agricultural community. This conservation program allows the owner/operator of IGFRs to combine the allotments of those IGFRs and apply that water anywhere within the combined footprint of the IGFRs. The owner/operator is then able to file a single annual report for the combined footprint.

The maximum annual groundwater allotment will be calculated according to A.R.S. § 45-465. The total combined allotments are subject to a five percent cut to the aquifer, therefore the total allotment for the farm unit would be the sum of the individual allotments of the enrolled IGFRs minus five percent of that total.

Existing flexibility accounts would be frozen, and a new separate flexibility account would be created for the farm unit. Debits and credits would accrue according to the total allotment and would be limited to +/- 50% of the total allotment.

To participate in the program, IGFRs must all be owned or operated by the same individual and be located within the same irrigation district or within the same sub-basin, if outside of an irrigation district.

Irrigation districts

Irrigation Districts are municipal corporations and political subdivisions established as a special taxing district for either agricultural improvement or irrigation and conservation purposes. Irrigation Districts receive, pump, and distribute water to irrigated lands within their service area. There are currently 59 active irrigation districts operating within the boundaries of the AMAs.

FAQs

Q: How do I report my water use?

Visit our Annual Reporting page for a link to report your water use online or print out the forms. You will also find other helpful documents on annual reporting there.

Q: Is there a Grandfathered Right associated with my property? Or - Which property is this Grandfathered Right associated with?

This information can be viewed using the Department’s Groundwater Rights Map. Using this map, you can search by address, county parcel number, or grandfathered right number to view location and right information associated with your search criteria.

Q: I’m selling/purchasing a property which has an irrigation water right, what is required for compliance?
Q: What is non-appurtenant land?

Non-appurtenant land is land within the property lines of a property that has been issued an Irrigation Grandfathered Right, which was not irrigated between the years of 1975-1980. This land is not legally allowed to be irrigated.

Q: What is an “Exempt” Irrigation Right?
  • Pursuant to A.R.S. § 45-467,  A person using groundwater pursuant to an irrigation grandfathered right that is appurtenant to ten or fewer irrigation acres is exempt from the reporting requirements of The Base Program unless one of the following applies:
    1. The land to which the irrigation grandfathered right is appurtenant is part of an integrated farming operation. (ex: Part of a farming operation with more than 10 irrigated acres.)
    2. Groundwater is withdrawn from the land to which the irrigation grandfathered right is appurtenant and delivered for use pursuant to either a service area right pursuant to article 6 of this chapter or a grandfathered groundwater right other than an irrigation grandfathered right that is appurtenant to irrigation acres that are exempt from irrigation water duties pursuant to section 45-563.02.
    3. Groundwater is withdrawn from land that is both owned by the owner of the irrigation grandfathered right and contiguous to the land to which the irrigation grandfathered right is appurtenant and delivered for use pursuant to either a service area right pursuant to article 6 of this chapter or a grandfathered groundwater right other than an irrigation grandfathered right that is appurtenant to irrigation acres that are exempt from irrigation water duties pursuant to A.R.S § 45-563.02.