Statutory authority to collect evidence, conduct hearings and make decisions is found at A.R.S. § 37-110l et seq. The Commission was established by Laws 1992, Chapter 297; however Laws 2001, Chapter 166 revised the adjudication process.
ANSAC is a five-member commission charged with the responsibility to review historical evidence, conduct investigations and determine the navigability of Arizona’s 39,039 watercourses at the time of statehood (February 14, 1912) in order to determine title and ownership of the streambed. The review applies to rivers and streams in the state, but does not apply to the Colorado River.
If a body of water or watercourse was navigable at the time of statehood, title to the bed of the stream or lake passed to the state upon admission into the Union. A navigable watercourse is defined as one that, at the time of statehood, was used or could be used, in its ordinary and natural condition, as a highway for commerce, over which trade and travel were or could have been conducted in the customary modes of trade and travel on water. (A.R.S. §37-1101) Title to beds of waters that were not navigable at the time of statehood may pass to private landowners.
Since 1985, a series of lawsuits and legislative enactments has attempted to resolve the issue of streambed ownership in Arizona. Laws 1987, Chapter 127, which disclaimed the state’s interest in all watercourses in the state except for the Gila, Verde and Salt Rivers, was determined to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals in 1991 (Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest v. Hassell). In response to the Hassell case, the Legislature established the five-member Arizona Navigable Stream Adjudication Commission (ANSAC) in 1992 and outlined its duties and responsibilities to ‘collect and consider relevant historical evidence regarding navigability of watercourses in the state as of February 14, 1913, and based on the evidence determine navigable, non-navigable and identify public trust values associated with navigable watercourses. The Arizona State Land Department was required to assemble and document evidence to be used by ANSAC. Created as a separate agency, ANSAC’s charge was to review evidence presented by the State Land Department and other persons regarding navigability of Arizona’s 39,039 watercourses.
Laws 1994, Chapter 277 outlined standards to be used by ANSAC in their determinations and required a report of findings and recommendations to be submitted to the Legislature. The Legislature was obligated to conduct hearings and take action based on the recommendations.
The ANSAC held more than 50 hearings and submitted recommendations in 1998, 1999 and 2000 reporting non-navigability for 14 rivers, two creeks and small and minor watercourses in three counties. The Legislature ratified those findings which prompted a lawsuit alleging violation of the constitutional gift clause and the public trust doctrine.
On February 13, 2001, the Court of Appeals held the statutory standards used by ANSAC to determine navigability invalid (Defenders of Wildlife v. Governor Jane Dee Hull). Laws 2001, Chapter 166 repealed earlier legislative ratifications of ANSAC’s findings and directed the ANSAC to begin the adjudication process again. Since then, ANSAC has found all of Arizona’s 39,039 watercourses to have been non-navigable at the time of statehood, and therefore subject to private ownership. Various parties appealed six ANSAC determinations regarding watercourses in Pima County and Maricopa County. As of 2014, ANSAC continues to gather evidence in order to make determinations for those watercourses affected by recent court action. ANSAC has been extended several times and is scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2016 (A.R.S. § 37-1121).
Statute requires ANSAC to notify the Director of Legislative Council in writing when the Commission’s work is complete, at which time Legislative Council will prepare conforming legislation for the next regular session to terminate the Commission and revert any unexpended and unencumbered appropriations to the State General Fund.
- Arizona Revised Statutes § 37-1101 et seq.
- Session laws:
- Laws 1987, Chapter 127
- Laws 1992, Chapter 297
- Laws 1994, Chapter 277
- Laws 1998, Chapter 43
- Laws 2001, Chapter 166
- Laws 2002, Chapter 102
- Laws 2006, Chapter 34
- Laws 2008, Chapter 42
- Laws 2011, Chapter 39
- Master List of State Government Programs