RAPID/Geothermal/Idaho/Water Access & Rights

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Idaho Geothermal Water Access & Water Rights(19-ID)

The state of Idaho defines geothermal resources as sui generis: “being neither a mineral resource nor a water resource . . . but found and hereby declared to be closely related to and possibly affecting and affected by water resources in many instances.” IS 47-1602. Ground water at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit or more is classified as a geothermal resource. See IS 42-4002(c). Idaho claims ownership of all geothermal resources underlying state and school trust lands. The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) regulates the development and use of all of the state's geothermal resources. The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) regulates the drilling and construction of water wells and injection wells, including wells for geothermal resource production. IS 42-4000 et seq..

The use of geothermal resources does not require a permit to appropriate water in Idaho, unless the use will decrease groundwater in any aquifer or other groundwater source or measurably decrease groundwater available from prior water rights. However, the development of geothermal resources of a temperature less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit does require a permit to appropriate water from the IDWR in accordance with IC 42-1 to 42-2.

Where the geothermal facility requires a consumptive use of water or for ancillary water uses involved in geothermal development projects (cooling water, dust suppression, etc.), developers will likely need to obtain water by negotiating a transfer from an existing water right holder, or applying for a permit to appropriate water.

Transfer and/or Change; New Water Right

Developers may seek to transfer an already existing water right from a third party. Water transfers require notice to the IDWR and potentially the approval of an Application for Change in Water Right. Otherwise, developers can obtain a new water right by submitting an Application for Water Right to the IDWR. For new water rights or changed water rights, the IDWR will determine whether the new use affects other water users in the state. IC 42-1 to 42-2. The new water appropriation review process includes public comment and the IDWR may schedule a formal hearing in order to resolve any protests. The developer must complete works in order to appropriate the water and put it to beneficial use. The IDWR will issue a certificate of water right for the amount shown to be put to beneficial use.

Some areas in Idaho currently have moratoriums on the issuance of new water right permits. In addition, there are areas in Idaho which have been designated as critical ground water areas or ground water management areas in which any new ground water development is strictly controlled.

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

Idaho Federal

Water Right Agency: Idaho Department of Water Resources
Water Right Classification: Prior Appropriation [1] None. Water rights classifications are defined at the state-level.
Geothermal Right Classification: (Sui generis and water)

Groundwater having a temperature greater than 212 degrees Fahrenheit at the well bottom is classified as a "geothermal resource" (IC 42-4002(c)). Water between 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 212 degrees Fahrenheit at the well bottom is classified as a "low temperature geothermal resource." Idaho claims ownership of all geothermal resources underlying state and school trust lands. Idaho also claims the right to regulate development and use of all of the state's geothermal resources.

The use of geothermal resources does not require a permit to appropriate water in Idaho unless it will decrease groundwater in any aquifer or other groundwater source or measurably decrease groundwater available from prior water rights. However, the use of low temperature geothermal resources does require a permit to appropriate water.
[2] 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? The use of geothermal resources does not require a permit to appropriate water in Idaho unless it will decrease groundwater in any aquifer or other groundwater source or measurably decrease groundwater available from prior water rights. However, the use of low temperature geothermal resources does require a permit to appropriate water. Preliminary Site Considerations 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. Idaho IC Title 42, Irrigation and Drainage - Water Rights and Reclamation (2014).
  2. Idaho IC 42-4002, Geothermal Resources Act Definitions (2014).
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