Arizona Supreme Court Upholds State Water Rights, Affirms Gosar Legislation

Nov 12, 2015 Issues: Economy and Jobs, Natural Resources, Energy, Public Lands and Water

For Immediate Release

Date: November 12, 2015

Contact: Steven D. Smith

Steven.Smith@mail.house.gov

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and upheld  the agreements codified by the Congressman’s legislation, H.R. 4924 , the Bill Williams Water Rights Settlement Act, Public Law No: 113-223, paving the way for the settlement of certain claims within the Bill Williams River Watershed among the Hualapai Tribe, the United States, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Freeport-McMoRan:

“Today’s opinion by the Arizona Supreme Court upholds state water rights and affirms ADWR’s critical role in protecting these rights. I’m disappointed that the plaintiffs in the original case asserted a number of baseless claims at taxpayer expense in seeking to prevent a private water rights settlement which has significant benefits for local waters users and the State of Arizona. This unnecessary legal challenge could have easily been avoided but unfortunately the Mohave County Supervisors have potentially put Arizona taxpayers on the hook for even more fees resulting from this frivolous lawsuit and today’s loss in court. 

“Moving forward, I believe this case can serve as a teachable moment for Arizona’s citizens, water users and Supervisors throughout the state. Rather than trying to upend a water rights settlement paid for with private money and involving private property, we should all work together and encourage commonsense solutions that benefit all parties. Above all else, today’s ruling is a win for private property owners, the Hualapai Tribe and the people of the great state of Arizona.”

Background

The Arizona Supreme Court Opinion can be found HERE.

There were several key findings in the decision including:

(1)  The Opinion was a unanimous 5-0 decision.

(2)  The Mohave County Supervisors were found not to be an “interested person” that had a right to contest the water rights transfer because—they had no vested or existing rights, as Congressman Gosar stated from the outset. 

(3)  The Court affirmed that physical water will not be transferred out of the County stating, “No water would be physically moved from Planet Ranch to the Bagdad Mining Complex.”  

(4)  The Court affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s finding that Mohave County Supervisors “had not identified any water rights held by the County that would be affected by the granting of applications ...”

(5)  All frivolous legal arguments made by the Mohave County Supervisors were ultimately rejected.

(6)  ADWR’s right to have attorney's fees paid was granted, the amount to be determined by the Superior Court in future proceedings.

H.R. 4924, the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement, was signed into law by the President on December 17, 2014.

This legislation asserts Congress’s authority under Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 which grants Congress the power to regulate matters of commerce amongst Indian Tribes and under Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 which gives Congress the power to make all rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.  

Public Law No: 113-223 facilitates the achievement of a fair and equitable settlement of certain claims within the Bill Williams River watershed among the Hualapai Tribe, the U.S. Department of the Interior acting on behalf of itself and as trustee for the Tribe, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and Freeport McMoRan Minerals Corporation. The legislation ratified the Big Sandy River-Planet Water Rights Settlement Agreement and the Hualapai Tribe Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Agreement. The Congressional Budget Office determined that the bill would have no effect on the federal budget and would not require new appropriations.

On June 26, 2015, the non the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a legal review of Congressman Gosar’s legislation, the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement, validating his previous assertions and affirming that his legislation is good for private property owners, will result in a significant net water benefit to the basin and will not result in a loss of any tax revenue to Mohave County. The full report can be found HERE.

There are numerous benefits for Arizona, Mohave County and the Hualapai Tribe from the Gosar-Flake legislation. H.R. 4924 provides certainty for the Bagdad Mine, which has an annual economic impact of $339.1 million to the state of Arizona, and sustains nearly 4,000 direct and indirect jobs. The Hualapai Tribe benefits from this legislation by securing certain water rights from two non-federal contributions by Freeport-McMoRan for an infrastructure fund and an economic development fund. Mohave County benefits from this law by keeping 175 mining jobs and $16 million in economic benefit. Furthermore, the State of Arizona will pay Mohave County in full for all property tax revenue lost as a result of the legislation (just over $2,000 per year). Arizona and Mohave County both benefit from the bill as the as this legislation will result in an overall net water use reduction in the basin of nearly 30,000 acre-feet per year. This reduction could also benefit residents in Lake Havasu and Bullhead City as this water can now be put to use in future water and economic development projects. There is also a provision in the bill that allows for new public access for hunting and fishing. Congressman Gosar has posted a fact sheet on his website for this law which can be found HERE.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S.2503, the Senate companion to Congressman Gosar’s bill, and ushered H.R. 4924 through the Senate.

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