“The waters of all sources, flowing in streams, canyons, ravines or other natural channels, or in definite underground channels, whether perennial or intermittent, flood, waste or surplus water, and of lakes, ponds and springs on the surface, belong to the public and are subject to appropriation and beneficial use.....”, (Arizona Revised Statutes § 45-141).
Early in its history, Arizona adopted the doctrine of prior appropriation to govern the use of surface water. This doctrine is based on the tenet of “first in time, first in right” which means the person who first puts the water to a beneficial use acquires a right that is senior to later appropriators of the water. Prior to June 12, 1919, a person could acquire a surface water right simply by applying the water to a beneficial use and posting a notice of the appropriation at the point of diversion. On June 12, 1919, the Arizona Surface Water Code was enacted. Now known as the Public Water Code, this law provides that a person must apply for and obtain a permit and certificate to appropriate (use) surface water and that beneficial use shall be the basis, measure, and limit to the use of water within the state. Arizona Revised Statute § 45-151(A) defines beneficial uses as “…domestic, municipal, irrigation, stock watering, water power, recreation, wildlife, including fish, nonrecoverable water storage pursuant to section 45-833.01 or mining uses…”
The Surface Water Permitting Section is responsible for issuing permits, certificates, and claims to the use of surface water within the State of Arizona, excluding the Lower Colorado River. The section is also responsible for the processing of ownership transfers for surface water rights and claims, the management and maintenance of an accurate and updated surface water right registry, maintaining the integrity of Departmental records and providing assistance to private, state and federal entities.
The mission of the Surface Water division of the Arizona Department of Water Resources is to ensure a long-term, sufficient and secure water supply for the State by promoting, allocating and comprehensively managing in an environmentally and economically sound manner the rights and interests of the State’s surface water resources for the citizens of Arizona.