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THE GROUNDWATER / SURFACE WATER DILEMMA – Introduction

June 20, 2010

THE GROUNDWATER/SURFACE WATER DILEMMA IN ARIZONA: A LOOK BACK AND A LOOK AHEAD TOWARD CONJUNCTIVE MANAGEMENT REFORM  by Allison Evans

Introduction

The scarcity of water supplies and ever expanding population have placed Arizona at the forefront of the long ensuing national dilemma concerning the need and appropriate form of legislation and regulation to preserve and utilize water resources. The continued support and survival of expanding urban and rural areas in the water-deprived State of  Arizona *270 depend greatly on what choices are made regarding water management, including the maintenance of agriculture and other industries, and sufficient future environmental and riparian protection. A multitude of debate and controversy surrounds this issue, matched with varying propositions and ideas for resolution taking a wide range of  policy and management forms attempting to divide the limited resource between competing users. While much remains uncertain in the world of water law, one distinct failure in Arizona stands clear: the refusal to recognize groundwater and surface water under a unified legal system.

This article addresses this looming problem by beginning with an overview of the distinguishable types and sources of water—groundwater and surface water—which are the key components in understanding Arizona’s water controversy and developing solutions for the future. Next, the article will lay further foundation for addressing the issue by comparing neighboring states and their various approaches to regulating water rights. Then, a brief discussion of the history of water law and regulation in Arizona, highlighting the major policy choices, statutory implementations, and case law that is responsible for the position the State of Arizona is in today, will follow. Next, the discussion will detail the failures and consequences of Arizona’s history and legislative and judicial action concerning water rights, and the various past, present, and future problems that have occurred and will occur as an unfortunate result. The article will conclude by emphasizing the importance and feasibility of implementing a comprehensive conjunctive management system in Arizona to remedy the vast array of water rights problems. The issues concerning water supply rights in Arizona are undeniably complex and multi-faceted, and therefore first require a general understanding of the different types of regulated water sources, namely groundwater and surface water, and the policies and history that govern them.

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