The Adjudication that Ate Arizona Water Law

This article traces the expansive and expensive contours of the Gila River Adjudication (the Adjudication) begun in 1974 to remedy depletions of the Verde River, a tributary of the Salt River, to which Salt River Project (SRP) and its members possess rights as senior appropriators on the Salt River. This article considers the role of the Gila River and its tributaries in Arizona’s water supply, the key developments in Arizona water law behind the Gila River Adjudication, the history of the Adjudication and the consequent litigation and legislation, the prospects for the Adjudication’s completion, the Adjudication’s negative effect on water rights enforcement, and the recent motions for interim relief filed by SRP in 2004. It concludes by evaluating whether a comprehensive general stream adjudication is an efficient means of determining water rights and suggests an alternative mechanism, based on Colorado’s system of ‘rolling’ water adjudications, for determining and enforcing water rights in Arizona and the proposed relationship to Indian reserved water rights claims.