Arizona Town of Queen Creek receives Colorado River water for the next century

Queen Creek Town Hall
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July 21, 2023 — After a five-year process, the Town of Queen CreekOpens in a new tab., a suburban Phoenix community, has initiated the transfer of 4th priority Colorado River water from Cibola, Arizona. Colorado River water entitlementsOpens in a new tab. are subject to a priority system.  This means that during shortages, the lower priority water is cut first.  There are six priority levels in Arizona.

Despite the 4th priority entitlement, this move is expected to significantly decrease the Town’s dependence on groundwater. The process, which faced opposition from western Arizona counties, had been set in motion back in 2018 when Queen Creek finalized a purchase agreement for a portion of the water rights with a Cibola Valley landowner.

The Queen Creek Perspective: 365,000 AF Over a Century

In her appreciation of the development, Queen Creek Mayor Julia Wheatley statedOpens in a new tab., “As a Council, we began discussing diversifying our water supply nearly a decade ago. Thanks to the foresight of previous and current Town Councils, we were able to have important conversations about where our water was coming from at the time, what it would look like in the future and opportunities to do it differently – more efficiently.”

Wheatley confirmed that the strategic decision to reduce reliance on groundwater would be cost-effective for residents and future generations. The water is set to be delivered through the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal that runs along the town’s eastern border.

Paul Gardner, Queen Creek’s Director of Water Resources, revealed that the town would receive 2,033 acre-feet of water annually, amounting to nearly 365,000 acre-feet over a century, thus significantly reducing groundwater pumping. Queen Creek made a one-time payment of $24 million for the water rights.

The town is reportedly considering other renewable supplies, including Harquahala water, and participating in a study to raise Bartlett Dam. There are also plans to utilize the town’s treated effluent fully and establish three additional recharge sites. Queen Creek is committed to ensuring a safe, reliable supply of water today and into the future.

Opposition from Western Arizona.

Despite the assurances from Queen Creek, counties such as Mohave, La Paz, and Yuma Counties in western Arizona have voiced strong opposition to the transferOpens in a new tab.. They filed a federal lawsuit in December to halt the process until an environmental impact study for the agreement could be completed, primarily out of fears regarding potential future water shortages in the wake of an historic drought.

La Paz County Supervisor Duce Minor has been vocal in his opposition, arguing that the transfer sets a dangerous precedent and has called for more local authority over water resource management.

Concerns have also been expressed by Mohave County Supervisors Jean Bishop and Buster Johnson, who believe that the state should place a moratorium on Colorado River water transfers until current and predicted water shortages are overcome. Johnson, who has opposed similar water transfer agreements for decades, suggests that Central Arizona continues to prosper at the expense of river communitiesOpens in a new tab..

Despite their objections, the supervisors acknowledged that financial constraints, coupled with the ongoing drought and looming budget deficits, may hinder any efforts to sustain a protracted legal battle.

With Queen Creek set to receive its transferred water and Western Arizona’s legal options seeming to dwindle, the implications of this precedent-setting decision for Arizona’s water management strategies remain to be seen.


Queen Creek Town HallOpens in a new tab.. The building that currently serves as the Town Hall for Queen Creek began as a meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Listed as historical by the San Tan Historical Society. Photo taken May 2013 by Tony the Marine and made available through Wikimedia Commons.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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