RAPID/Geothermal/Hawaii/Water Access & Rights

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Hawaii Geothermal Water Access & Water Rights(19-HI)

In Hawaii, geothermal resources, including hot brines and waters associated with the resource, are considered minerals for regulatory purposes. As such, water removed from the ground in order to obtain geothermal resources is regulated as part of the mineral resource and not otherwise subject to Hawaii water law.

Hawaii defines geothermal energy and associated resources as: “the natural heat of the earth, the energy, in whatever form, below the surface of the earth present in, resulting from, or created by, or which may be extracted from, such natural heat, and all minerals in solution or other products obtained from naturally heated fluids, brines, associated gases, and steam, in whatever form, found below the surface of the earth, but excluding oil, hydrocarbon gas, other hydrocarbon substances, and any water, mineral in solution, or other product obtained from naturally heated fluids, brines, associated gases, and steam, in whatever form, found below the surface of the earth, having a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less, and not used for electrical power generation. H.R.S. 182-1 – Reservation and Disposition of Government Mineral Rights, Definitions As such, even water associated with a resource at temperatures less than 150 degrees is still considered a geothermal resource if the resource is used for electrical power generation.

Where the geothermal facility requires the use of water for ancillary purposes involved in geothermal development projects (cooling water, dust suppression, etc.), developers will likely need to obtain water through a surface water use permit.

Surface Water Use Permit

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Resource Management has administrative authority to establish a new use of surface water or modify an existing surface water use permit in a designated surface water management area. Hawaii Revised Statutes 174C. Interested developers must submit a application for DLNR Form SWUPA-N. Uses subject to a surface water use permit include any withdrawal, diversion, impoundment, or consumptive use of water in a designated water management area. H.A.R. 13-171 - Designation and Regulation of Water Management Areas.

No surface water use permit is required for domestic consumption of surface water by individual users, for uses on any Maui Department of Water Supply water system, or for uses outside of the designated water management area. H.A.R. 13-171 - Designation and Regulation of Water Management Areas.

More Information

Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

Hawaii Federal

Water Right Agency: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Resource Management
Water Right Classification: Permit System - Water is a public trust [1] None. Water rights classifications are defined at the state-level.
Geothermal Right Classification: (Mineral) In Hawai'i geothermal resources are included within the definition of mineral (HRS 523A-2). Hawai'i state law also excludes from the definition of a geothermal resource any fluids having a temperature less than 150 degrees Fahrenheit and not being used for electrical generation (HRS 182-1). Hawai'i also claims ownership of geothermal resources on all state and reserved lands. "Reserved lands" are those owned or leased by any person in which the state has reserved to itself, expressly or by implication, the minerals or the right to mine minerals, or both. "State lands" includes all public and other lands owned by or in the possession, use and control of the State of Hawai'i. [2][3] Geothermal resources include: #All products of geothermal processes, including indigenous steam, hot water, and hot brines; #Steam and other gases, hot water, and hot brines resulting from water, gas, or other fluids artificially introduced into geothermal formations; #Heat or other associated energy found in geothermal formations; and #Any byproducts. 43 CFR 3200.1.
Is a Water Right Required to Pump Geothermal Fluids? No Given the rights conveyed and the applicable definition of “geothermal resources,” developers do not need to obtain a state water right related to the extraction of hot water and brines that are part of the geothermal resource/formation. The right to extract water, brines, and fluids for the purposes of geothermal development is inherent in the rights conveyed under a federal geothermal lease.

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List of Reference Sources

  1. Hawaii Revised Statutes 174C, State Water Code (2013).
  2. Hawaii Revised Statute 523A-2, Definition of Mineral Resources (2012).
  3. H. R. S. 182 - Reservation and Disposition of Government Mineral Rights (2012).
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