How do we use water in Arizona? It depends on what kind of water it is! Mostly, the discussion centers around surface water and groundwater.

First, surface water is water that we can see. It flows in lakes, rivers, and streams. In Arizona, surface water is subject to the rules of “prior appropriation” and “forfeiture.” Prior appropriation means first in time, first in right: the first person to use the water has the right to use that water. Forfeiture means that if you stop using the surface water you have a right to use, you lose that right.



Another kind of water is groundwater. Groundwater is found under the surface of the earth. To access groundwater, the landowner must drill a well to pump that water to the earth’s surface.

In most parts of the state, groundwater use is subject to the rule of “beneficial use.” That means that anyone can use groundwater, so long as they can afford to pump the water and use it for domestic, irrigation, industrial, or other beneficial uses.

In 1980, the Groundwater Management Act changed those rules for the most populous parts of our state. Under that act, water users located in Active Management Areas may only pump groundwater if they have a right to do so. State lawmakers are considering additional laws to manage our water resources.

Ultimately because of our laws, wise management and collaborative efforts with several stakeholders, compared to other states, Arizona manages water wisely!