Superior Court >General Stream Adjudication

Overview of General Stream Adjudications Q: What are the Gila River and Little Colorado River general stream adjudications? A: The general stream adjudications are judicial proceedings to determine the extent and priority of water rights in the Gila River system and in the Little Colorado River system. Thousands of claimants and water users are joined in these cases that will result in the Superior Court issuing a comprehensive final decree of water rights for both river systems. The adjudications are conducted pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes sections 45-251 to 45-264.

The May 2009 issue (page 3) of the Maricopa Lawyer, a publication of the Maricopa County Bar Association, published an article reviewing some of the history of the Gila River Adjudication.

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Q: How did these adjudications start? A: The Gila River and Little Colorado River Adjudications trace their origins to proceedings initiated in the 1970s under the then-existing general adjudication procedures set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes sections 45-231 to 45-245. On April 26, 1974, the Salt River Valley Water Users' Association (SRP) filed a petition with the Arizona Land Department to determine the water rights in the Salt River Watershed above Granite Reef Dam but excluding the Verde River Watershed. On February 24, 1976, SRP filed a similar petition to determine the water rights to the Verde River and its tributaries Oak Creek, Beaver Creek, West Clear Creek, and the East Verde River.

On February 17, 1978, utilizing the same statutes, the Phelps Dodge Corporation filed a petition with the State Land Department to determine the water rights of the Little Colorado River System and Source including Show Low Creek and East Clear Creek. On the same date, Phelps Dodge filed a petition for the determination of water rights in portions of the Lower Gila River Watershed and the Upper Gila River Watershed including the San Francisco River, Chase Creek, and Eagle Creek. On April 19, 1978, Phelps Dodge supplemented this petition to include additional lands in both the Lower Gila River and Upper Gila River Watersheds.

On April 3, 1978, ASARCO, Incorporated filed a petition with the State Land Department for the adjudication of the San Pedro River Watershed including Aravaipa Creek.

On December 24, 1980, the Buckeye Irrigation Company filed a motion to intervene and a petition to enlarge the scope of the adjudication with respect to areas of the Gila River Watershed not included in the previously filed petitions. The motion and petition were granted on February 23, 1981, and the Agua Fria River Watershed and other portions of the Lower Gila River Watershed were included in the Gila River Adjudication. At the time, there was litigation pending in federal court (U.S. v. City of Tucson, CIV 75-39 TUC) which sought an adjudication of the Santa Cruz River Watershed in Pima and Santa Cruz counties. Because of the litigation, the Maricopa County Superior Court, by granting the Buckeye Irrigation Company's petition for adjudication of additional rights, did not include the portion of the Santa Cruz River Watershed located in Pima and Santa Cruz counties. Following the conclusion of the federal litigation, on October 30, 1985, the Buckeye Irrigation Company filed a petition to include those portions of the Santa Cruz River Watershed in the Gila River Adjudication. The court granted the petition.

In April 1979, the Legislature amended the general adjudication statutes. Under the amendments, the Salt River, Verde River, and Gila River adjudications were transferred from the State Land Department to the Maricopa County Superior Court. The San Pedro River adjudication was transferred to the Cochise County Superior Court. In November 1981, the Arizona Supreme Court consolidated all the adjudications into one proceeding assigned to the Maricopa County Superior Court under the caption In re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Gila River System and Source, Nos. W-1, W-2, W-3, and W-4 (Consolidated).

Under the 1979 amended statutes, the Little Colorado River Adjudication was transferred to the Apache County Superior Court under the caption In re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Little Colorado River System and Source, No. 6417.

These cases were assigned to the Maricopa County Superior Court and Apache County Superior Court because these are the counties where the largest number of potential claimants reside. Pursuant to the amended statutes, summons were issued in both adjudications and served on potential claimants. Summons were served upon all persons listed in the property tax assessments in each watershed and on all persons in the watershed who had, at the time, any kind of water rights filing (groundwater or surface water) on record with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). In July 1984, a special notification was made to owners of registered wells in the Upper Salt River and San Pedro River watersheds. The summons required the filing of a statement of claimant with if the person claimed a water use in the watershed. ADWR does the service of process for both adjudications.

Summons are served on a continuing basis on all persons who initiate a new water use in the watersheds being adjudicated. New uses include new wells and all other new water uses.

The original deadlines for filing a statement of claimant were:

Gila River Adjudication

Upper Salt - June 30, 1980
January 4, 1985 (groundwater claims)

San Pedro - July 11, 1980
January 4, 1985 (groundwater claims)

Agua Fria - November 1, 1985

Upper Gila - November 1, 1985

Verde - November 29, 1985

Lower Gila - January 20, 1987

Upper Santa Cruz - August 3, 1987

Little Colorado River Adjudication December 23, 1985

As of June 30, 2013, 83,244 statements of claimant had been filed in the Gila River Adjudication and 14,522 claims in the Little Colorado River Adjudication.

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Q: Why does it seem that the adjudications have proceeded slowly? A: Evaluating the adjudications by the years that have passed since they began overlooks significant accomplishments. Appellate courts have answered complex legal and procedural issues that presented questions of first impression, and efforts to resolve substantial reserved water right claims have been productive.

Several reasons account for the duration of the adjudications. First, the general adjudication statutes underwent legislative changes in 1979 and in 1995. The constitutionality of several legislative amendments enacted in 1995 was litigated before the Arizona Supreme Court. During that litigation, proceedings in both adjudications were delayed until early 1999. Second, beginning in early 1979, issues related to the jurisdiction of state courts to adjudicate Indian reserved water rights were litigated, ending in an opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983, and a decision of the Arizona Supreme Court in 1985. Third, the Arizona Supreme Court accepted six interlocutory appeals (arising from proceedings before the Maricopa County Superior Court) on substantial legal and procedural issues. The Arizona Supreme Court has decided five of the appeals and vacated the sixth appeal. In two of the appeals, some parties filed petitions for review with the U.S. Supreme Court following the decisions of the Arizona Supreme Court; both petitions were denied

Fourth, many parties have engaged in negotiations to resolve Indian and federal reserved water rights by settlement. These efforts have resulted in the Maricopa County Superior Court's approval, following Congressional approval, of four settlement agreements of Indian reserved rights. Negotiations to resolve the water right claims of several other Indian tribes have actively continued for several years. In 2003, the U.S. Congress approved one Indian water rights settlement agreement in the Little Colorado River Adjudication. Currently, the Congress is considering another Indian water rights settlement act. Lastly, three watershed hydrographic survey reports and numerous technical reports addressing both Indian and non-Indian water rights have been published, and five comprehensive superior court pretrial orders and three Arizona Supreme Court special procedural orders have been issued.

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Q: Who will be affected by a general stream adjudication? A: Any person or entity who uses water or has made a claim to use water, on property within the Gila River system or within the Little Colorado River system, may potentially be affected. The Legislature has charged the Arizona Superior Court with determining, quantifying, and prioritizing water rights claimed in these watersheds. The final decrees will establish the existence and ownership of claimed water rights as well as important attributes of the water rights including location of diversions, water uses, quantity of water used, and date of priority of water rights. return to top Q: What is the position of Special Master? A: The Special Master is a judicial officer appointed by the Arizona Superior Court to hear cases arising out of the adjudications and report on legal and factual issues referred by the Superior Court. After resolving the objections to the hydrographic survey reports, the Special Master will present a report and recommended final decree to the Superior Court judge assigned to each adjudication. After hearing and resolving any objections to the Special Master's report, the Superior Court will issue a final decree for each watershed. return to top Q: What do I do if I did not file a statement of claimant? A: A statement of claimant may be filed, without leave of the Superior Court, before the conclusion of hearings by the Special Master for a subwatershed or federal reservation. After the Special Master has completed hearings on a subwatershed or federal reservation and has filed a report with the Superior Court for the entire subwatershed or federal reservation, a claimant must file a motion with the Superior Court for permission to intervene and file a statement of claimant. The Superior Court may grant the request if it finds that the intervention would not unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the original parties. return to top Q: How do I file a statement of claimant? A: Claims are asserted by filing the appropriate Court-approved statement of claimant form and submitting the required filing fee. There are four statements of claimant forms: Irrigation, Stockpond, Domestic, and Other water rights. The forms are obtained from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR).

The filing fee for an individual claimant is $20.00. The filing fee for a corporation, municipal corporation, the State of Arizona or any political subdivision, or an association or partnership is two cents for every acre-foot of water claimed or $20.00, whichever is greater. The filing fee should be paid by check or money order made payable to ADWR. ADWR will forward all fees to the Clerk of the Superior Court. A statement of claimant will not be considered unless the filing fee for the claim has been paid.

All statements of claimant must be filed with ADWR at 3550 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona 85012. According to Arizona Revised Statutes section § 45-254(F), "any potential claimant who is properly served and who failed to file a statement of claimant as prescribed by this article for any water right ... is barred and estopped from subsequently asserting any right that was previously acquired on the river system and source and that was not included in a statement of claimant and forfeits any rights to the use of water in the river system and source that were not included in a properly filed statement of claimant."

You may lose the right to use the water of the river system if you fail to file a statement of claimant. This loss may happen even though you have received a permit, certificate, or other approval from ADWR. But a statement of claimant filed in an adjudication is not legal permission to use water. A person does not obtain a right to use water by filing a statement of claimant form. Rights to use water must be acquired in accordance with state or federal law.

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Q: What do I do if I receive a New Use Summons? A: Determine if you must or should file a statement of claimant. The Superior Court has directed the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to serve new use summons on potential claimants. New use summons are served on people who have commenced new water uses such as drilling a new well. ADWR has prepared a series of questions and answers regarding new use summons. Go to http://www.azwater.gov/dwr/Content/Find_by_Category/Dam_Safety_Forms/default.htm. return to top Q: Should a claim be filed for a potential future use? A: No. Under Arizona's system of water law, water rights can neither be established nor reserved for a potential future use. Surface water rights can only be obtained through proper legal appropriation and putting the water to beneficial use. return to top Q: Can I amend a statement of claimant? A: Yes. A statement of claimant should always be current. A claim may be amended, without leave of the Superior Court, before the conclusion of hearings by the Special Master for a subwatershed or federal reservation. After the Special Master has completed hearings on a subwatershed or federal reservation or on the claim, and has filed a report with the Superior Court for the entire subwatershed or federal reservation, a claimant must file a motion with the Superior Court for permission to file an amended statement of claimant. The Superior Court has discretion to grant or deny the request. return to top Q: Must I inform the Arizona Department of Water Resources of any changes? A: The Superior Court has directed that any person who has filed a statement of claimant shall notify the Arizona Department of Water Resources, within thirty (30) days of the change, of any of the following changes regarding that person or concerning that person's statement of claimant: (1) a change in that person's address; (2) an assignment of the statement of claimant form to another person; (3) a transfer to another person of all or part of the land for which a water right has been claimed; and (4) a transfer to another person of all or part of the water right claimed, if the claimed water right has been severed and transferred to another parcel of land. return to top Q: What is a contested case? A: The Arizona Department of Water Resources reports its investigation of a claimed water right in a report entitled "Watershed File Report." Each watershed file report and the objections filed against it will be organized into contested cases. A contested case may involve as few as one or several watershed file reports. This process was instituted for the objections filed when the San Pedro River Watershed and the Silver Creek Watershed hydrographic survey reports were published. Each contested case will have a unique number (for example, W1-11-0123 in the San Pedro River Watershed and 6417-033-9876 in the Silver Creek Watershed). The Superior Court Clerk's offices use that number for filing and reference. Any communication to the Special Master and to the parties in the case must include this number in the caption of the document. return to top Q: How does the Special Master choose which cases to hear first? A: Parties will raise legal issues in their objections to watershed file reports. Many of the same issues may be raised in many watershed file reports. A contested case may be organized to address a specific issue or a set of related questions. Decisions made in the first cases will or may influence decisions made about the repeated objections made to other similarly situated watershed file reports. return to top Q: Who will participate in my contested case? A: The participants in a contested case are the landowner, objectors, other water claimants, and any lessee, allottee, or permittee if the contested case involves public land and that person is known to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. A motion to intervene must be filed and granted by the Special Master for others to participate. More limited participation is available for persons who want to comment to the Special Master as an amicus curiae ("friend of the court"). An amicus may file legal arguments or comments, but is not a party to the litigation and is not bound by it. return to top Q: Will my water rights be determined in these contested cases? A: The purpose of a contested case is to determine the water rights in each watershed file report. After hearing objections about a watershed file report, the Special Master will prepare a catalog of water rights for the entire watershed. Another objection period will be allowed. After the Special Master resolves any objections filed, the Special Master will submit a proposed final decree to the Superior Court which reports the water rights of all persons in the watershed. return to top Q: All that is on my property is a well - do I have to participate? A: All persons using water or a well should file a statement of claimant - or confirm that a statement of claimant has been filed on their behalf - because a person may be pumping appropriable subflow which is subject to the Superior Court's jurisdiction in an adjudication. return to top Q: How can I communicate with the Special Master or other persons in my case? A: After your particular contested case has been commenced by a case management order, any written communication to the Special Master must be filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court. A copy of the document filed must be provided to all persons who are litigants in your case. First-class mail is an acceptable way to file and serve your communication on others.

You may call the office of the Special Master for answers to procedural and scheduling questions. You may call the Arizona Department of Water Resources for answers to questions about the contents of a watershed file report, any part of a hydrographic survey report, or a technical report. You may call the Clerk of the Superior Court for Maricopa County or for Apache County for help with questions about filing documents.

These persons cannot give you legal advice, as these offices are charged to remain neutral so that fair decisions can be made. Fair decisions are possible only after everyone has had a chance to bring forward their facts in a properly noticed hearing. You may talk about your case in a status conference or hearing before the Special Master.

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Q: How can I protect myself in litigation? Will I need a lawyer? A: Adjudications are complex legal proceedings that affect valuable property rights: people's water rights. Like any lawsuit involving important legal issues, it is usually to your advantage to consult with qualified legal counsel early in the process. Even if you decide not to retain a lawyer, early consultation with an attorney will help you in making that decision.

You may wish to talk to other individuals participating in a contested case to see if your interests and positions are the same. If they are, you may wish to join together to assert a common position or retain a lawyer. You may learn that major parties have competing positions and that some of the major parties, although not representing you, may support your position on a specific issue.

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Q: What is the schedule for proceedings in a contested case? A: Proceedings in a contested case will include discovery, disclosure of information, motions, conferences, and hearings. A schedule of proceedings listing the dates and deadlines for each case will be issued with the first case management order or at the first conference with the Special Master. Any changes and updates to the schedule will be made in a minute entry mailed to you from the Special Master. The online Arizona General Stream Adjudication Bulletin, posted on the Special Master's Internet site in January, May, and September, provides a summary of contested cases, what has happened in those cases, and upcoming matters. You should review all documents received in the mail to keep track of important dates. return to top Q: Must I attend hearings and conferences? What happens if I don't? A: If you are notified that your case will be proceeding, you should attend all conferences and hearings set by the Special Master and all proceedings associated with your case.

If you do not attend court-ordered conferences or hearings, you may forfeit your opportunity to participate and be heard on an issue. You may be giving up your right to provide the Special Master with information necessary to determine your claimed water rights. You may be forfeiting your opportunity to argue a position that is shared by other water users. If your failure to attend conferences or hearings interferes with the judicial process, the Special Master can impose sanctions against you including, but not limited to, refusal to recognize your claimed water rights.

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Q: What is discovery and what are disclosures of information? A: Discovery refers to a set of procedures that a party can use to obtain facts and information about a case from another party or from other persons. These procedures include the provision of information in response to a court-approved disclosure checklist; interrogatories (written questions addressed to another party); requests for admission (written questions addressed to another party requiring a "true" or "false" response); requests for the production of documents; requests for inspection (such as the inspection of a water source); and depositions (oral questions asked of a party or witness with the responses recorded by a court reporter and, in some instances, on video tape).

Discovery is allowed by the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules for Proceedings Before the Special Master. If you are a litigant, you may be able to use these procedures to obtain information to prepare your case from other parties or persons. You may be required to provide information in response to a disclosure checklist set forth in a case management order. You may be required to provide additional answers to interrogatories or requests for admission submitted by other parties, to give an oral deposition, or to provide information

Disclosures refer to information which a litigant is required to disclose to other litigants at the beginning of a contested case and thereafter timely supplement whenever new information is discovered or revealed. Rule 26.1 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure contains the mandated disclosures. They include the factual basis of a claim; the legal theory upon which each claim is based; the name and address of each person that a party expects to call as a witness or as an expert witness, with a summary of the witness' expected testimony; and the existence, location, and description of relevant documents that a litigant expects to use at a hearing.

The mandated disclosures of information are separate from the procedures for discovery. Disclosures may lead to or facilitate the use of discovery procedures. return to top
Q: What is a Court-approved mailing list? A: A Court-approved mailing list is the official list of persons recognized by the Superior Court or the Special Master as participating in a particular case. The list includes the litigants and persons participating as amicus curiae ("friend of the court").

The list and updates will be mailed by the Clerk of the Superior Court or the Special Master to all persons appearing on the list. All persons participating in a contested case are obligated to mail a copy of any correspondence or pleading to all persons on the list. Service of pleadings must be accomplished by personal delivery or first-class mail properly addressed and stamped.

It is the obligation of all persons participating to notify the Clerk of the Superior Court and the Special Master, in writing, of any change of address. Always be sure you use the correct Court-approved mailing list for the case in which you are participating. return to top
Q: What is a docket and where can I get a copy of the docket? A: The docket is the chronological record the Clerk of the Superior Court keeps of every document filed in an adjudication. The docket entries show the date of filing and give a short summary of the contents in each document. A monthly docket subscription is available from the Arizona Department of Water Resources for $12.00 per year. The docket subscription reports pleadings that pertain to each adjudication and proceedings in individual contested cases. The online Arizona General Stream Adjudication Bulletin also provides summary information about contested cases. return to top Q: What do I need to do to protect my interests? A: There are seven basic steps to protect your interests. While these steps will not ensure that you will be awarded the water rights to which you believe you are entitled, complying with the steps will enable you to be heard on the matters that are important to you.

1: Be sure that a statement of claimant has been filed for the water rights to which you believe you are entitled. Call or visit the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to determine whether your water rights have been claimed, and if not, for information about filing a statement of claimant.

2: Keep your statement of claimant current. Amend and update a claim when new information is obtained.

3: Monitor adjudication proceedings. The online Arizona General Stream Adjudication Bulletin, published in January, May, and September, provides information about pending cases that raise important issues and a schedule of upcoming proceedings. You can subscribe to the monthly docket, a summary of pleadings and other documents, for $12.00 per year that is distributed by ADWR. You can ask to be placed on the Court-approved mailing list. You can obtain information about a docket subscription and the Court-approved mailing lists from ADWR.

4: Review all the documents that relate to the watershed file report (WFR) in which you are interested. Whether you are a landowner, claimant, or objector, you should study the WFR, all the statements of claimant reported there, all the objections to the WFR, and ADWR's working files. The hydrographic survey reports, which contain the WFRs, are comprehensive documents which require careful review to use well. The hydrographic survey report contains explanatory information about how to use the report, and ADWR staff are available to help you understand its contents.

5: Participate in all the proceedings relating to the WFR in which you are interested. Once that WFR has been designated for determination in a contested case, you should attend all scheduled conferences and hearings. You should promptly review and respond to all legal notices and pleadings that are sent to you. Some pleadings, for example, interrogatories or questions sent by another litigant, must be answered within a certain time period with consequences if a response is not made. Never assume that another person (unless that person is your attorney) will represent your water right interests. You or your attorney must be present to assert your position or interests.

6: Consider retaining an attorney to advise you or represent you. General stream adjudications are complex proceedings. While not every claimant needs an attorney to participate effectively, many persons may benefit by having assistance or representation. Consider consulting with an attorney for assistance in understanding the proceedings and your interests in the adjudications. You will then be able to make an informed decision on whether you need to retain an attorney to represent you.

7: Keep ADWR informed of your current address. The Superior Court, the Special Master, and ADWR use ADWR's records for mailing notices and legal documents. It is your responsibility to notify ADWR of any changes in your mailing address.

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Q: Where can I go for more information? A: For information about statements of claimant, hydrographic survey reports, watershed file reports, technical reports, copies of pleadings, filing or reviewing discovery or disclosures of information, ordering a monthly docket subscription, or obtaining publications and reference materials.

Arizona Department of Water Resources
3550 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85012

(602) 771-8649 (Phoenix area)

1-(866)-246-1414 (toll free within the United States)

For information about filing pleadings, reviewing Court files, obtaining copies of pleadings, or ordering a docket for a contested case:

Gila River Adjudication
Clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court
Attn: Water Case
601 West Jackson Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85003
(602) 506-4869

Little Colorado River Adjudication
Clerk of the Apache County Superior Court
Attn: Water Case
P. O. Box 365
St. Johns, Arizona 85936
(928) 337-7550

For information about procedures being used in the adjudications, upcoming proceedings, deadlines, and other administrative matters contact the Special Master, Arizona General Stream Adjudication, Maricopa County Superior Court, Central Court Building Suite 5B, 201 West Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona 85003-2205. Our telephone is (602) 372-4115.

The hydrographic survey reports will be available for purchase and review at ADWR's Phoenix office. Copies of hydrographic survey reports are available for review at the Maricopa County Superior Court Clerk's Office, Apache County Superior Court Clerk's Office, ADWR's field offices, and at selected libraries throughout the State of Arizona.

The Rules for Proceedings Before the Special Master are posted on this site.

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