Arizona high court: No reserved water rights for state trust land

Sep 13, 2012, 11:22 AM | Updated: 11:23 am

PHOENIX — Settling a decades-old battle, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that millions of acres of state trust land in Arizona have no federally reserved water rights.

The court’s decision rejected the State Land Department’s claim that the federal government granted reserved water rights to trust land transferred to Arizona upon statehood.

State officials argued that the designation would maximize the value of the trust land, which is leased and sold to benefit public schools and institutions. Federal reserved water rights are considered senior to other claims and agreements.

The case decided Wednesday involved allocations of water in the Gila and Little Colorado River systems, in which the Land Department manages approximately 6.5 million acres of trust land.

Those opposed to the department’s claim included the mining firm ASARCO, Catalyst Paper Inc. of Snowflake, the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District and the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association.

To date, more than 14,000 and 82,000 claims have been made in the Little Colorado and Gila River adjudications, respectively, according to the court’s opinion.

In an opinion written by Justice A. John Pelander, the court said, among other points, that the state didn’t prove that without the reserved water rights “the State Trust Lands will become worthless or incapable of producing a fund to support their designated beneficiaries.” Even without these rights, the opinion noted, the Land Department has produced revenue for a century.

Dave Roberts, SRP’s water resource management senior director, said it was never the federal government’s intent to reserve water for state trust land. The decision, he said, protects users relying on the agreements allocating water.

“The opposite decisions could have thrown a huge monkey wrench into the state’s water-allocation process and raised still more uncertainty for water users,” Roberts said.

Deputy State Land Commissioner Vanessa Hickman called the ruling disappointing.

“We were hopeful the court would find that the State Trust Lands had federally reserved water rights that could increase the value of their revenue for our beneficiaries,” she said.

Hickman said the department is still seeking to ensure surface-water rights on the 9.2 million acres of state trust land it manages.

In a similar case, the New Mexico Court of Appeals in 2008 rejected claims made by New Mexico’s State Land Office that nearly 300,000 acres of trust land in the San Juan River Basin were granted reserved water rights by the federal government.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.
1 day ago
(Mesa Police Department photo)...

4 children missing in Mesa after being taken by father

The Mesa Police Department is searching for four children that were taken by their father on Sunday.
1 day ago
This photo provided by Budweiser shows a scene from Budweiser's 2023 Super Bowl NFL football ad. Br...
Associated Press

For Super Bowl ads this year, crypto is out, booze is in

NEW YORK (AP) — The hottest ticket in town for advertisers is officially sold out. Fox said Monday that in-game ads for Super Bowl LVII have all been sold. The big game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles takes place on Sunday. The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage, with advertisers jockeying […]
1 day ago
FILE - People walk by the AMC 34th Street theater on March 5, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Ago...
Associated Press

AMC to charge more for better seats in movie theaters

AMC Theaters, the nation's largest theater chain, unveiled a new pricing scheme which seat location determines how much movie tickets cost.
1 day ago
Associated Press

Super Bowl draws epic air show of private planes to Phoenix

Officials expect more than 1,000 extra planes to descend on Phoenix’s airports this week for the Super Bowl as well as the WM Phoenix Open.
1 day ago
(Dunkin' Photo)...

Doughnut box: Dunkin’ opens shop made from shipping container in Mesa

A new Dunkin' location in Mesa, the national donut and cofee chain's first in Arizona made from a repurposed shipping container.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Arizona high court: No reserved water rights for state trust land