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From ancient times to the present, the history of Arizona has always been closely tied to the availability of water. Most of the population of the state lives along or is entirely dependent upon historic riverbeds, many of which are now dry because all of the water has been impounded for irrigation and domestic uses.
Records of the ownership and usage of the water systems have been kept since the earliest times of settlement by the Europeans. The Native American population was likewise dependent entirely upon the availability of water. In the Salt River Valley, the ancient inhabitants developed an immense system of canals Much of this system of canals was adopted by the European settlers and forms the basis for the huge city of Phoenix and the surrounding communities to this day.
Water rights may seem far removed from genealogy, but in Arizona adopted the right of prior appropriation from the earliest times. The lack of an abundant water supply has led to an almost constant series of court cases both internally and with surrounding states over the issue of water rights.
The court litigation and the ownership records of water rights are a valuable source of information about the residents of the state and have great value to genealogists.
Water records date back to the time when the entire Southwest region of the continent was part of the Spanish Empire. It is to the Spanish or civil law system that Arizona inherited the doctrine of "prior appropriation" or "first in time, first in right." Here are several websites that review the history of water rights in Arizona:
- Arizona Department of Water Resources, History of Water Management in Arizona
- History of the Central Arizona Project
- Water Education Foundation and the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Arizona Water
- Salt River Project, Arizona Water Story.
- Davis v. Agua Sierra Resources. Bringing Some Clarity to Groundwater Rights in Arizona.
Importance of Water Records
Since water records are kept in addition to records of land transactions, they are a valuable supplement to the existing land records. By statute in Arizona, Arizona Revised Statutes Section 37-708, water rights attach and become appurtenant to the land when the title passes from the United States to the state.
Finding Water Records
Water records are generally held by the individual water districts or irrigation companies.
Here are some additional records:
- Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Rcords, History and Archives Division, Water Holdings in the State Archives
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