RAPID/Geothermal/Nevada/Water Access & Rights

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Nevada Geothermal Water Access & Water Rights(19-NV)

The state of Nevada defines geothermal energy and associated resources as: “the natural heat of the earth and the energy associated with that natural heat, pressure and all dissolved or entrained minerals that may be obtained from the medium used to transfer that heat, but excluding hydrocarbons and helium.” NRS 534A.010.

The definition does not expressly reference water or fluids. Additionally, the owner of the surface estate owns the rights to the underlying geothermal resources, unless the geothermal resources have been otherwise reserved or conveyed. NRS 534A.050.

Generally, the use of water in Nevada requires an appropriative right and only extends to the amount put to beneficial use. NRS 533.372. However, only consumptive uses of water brought to the surface outside of a geothermal well are subject to the appropriation procedures of NRS 533 and 534 unless:

  • The water that is removed from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir to develop and obtain geothermal resources is returned to or reinjected into the same aquifer or reservoir; or
  • Reasonable loss of water results from geothermal well testing or temporary failure of all or part of a system that removes water from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir, transfers the heat from the water and reinjects that water into the same aquifer or reservoir.

NRS 534A.040.

As such, developers that remove and reinject water in a “closed loop” system in order to obtain geothermal resources are not subject to the appropriation rules in NRS 533 and NRS 534.

For ancillary water uses involved in geothermal development projects (cooling water, dust suppression, etc.), developers will likely need to obtain water through municipal or governmental supplies, private lease supplies, by purchase, or a new or changed water right. The Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR) administers the rules and regulations pertaining to water rights and should be consulted throughout any processes related to water rights and water access.

Purchased water rights must be conveyed by deed and recorded in the office of the county recorder of each county in which the water is applied to beneficial use and in each county in which the water is diverted from its natural sources. NRS 533.382. Developers who purchase or lease a water right must also file a Report of Conveyance with the NDWR.

Change of Use

If the developer intends to purchase or lease a water right that requires a change in the manner of use, place of use, or point of the diversion, the water right owner/lessor or the developer must submit a Water Right Change application to the NDWR and receive permission to change the use. NRS 533.325

Appropriation of Water

If seeking to appropriate water, the water must be available for appropriation. Developers may submit a Water Right Application to the NDWR. While applications to appropriate surface and ground water are largely the same, ground water applications may have additional requirements. For example, if the appropriation is for ground water within a designated groundwater basin, the NDWR must confer with the relevant ground water board. If the NDWR approves the application, the developer must construct works necessary to pump/divert the water, put the water to beneficial use, and file proof of both activities with the NDWR.

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

Nevada Federal

Water Right Agency: Nevada Division of Water Resources
Water Right Classification: Prior Appropriation [1] None. Water rights classifications are defined at the state-level.
Geothermal Right Classification: (Mineral and water) Geothermal resources in Nevada belong to the owner of the surface estate, unless they have been specifically reserved by or conveyed to another person. Geothermal resources are severable from the surface estate much like a normal mineral estate in Nevada. The geothermal resource includes the natural heat of the earth, pressure and all dissolved or entrained minerals...excluding hydrocarbons and helium (NRS 534A.010). [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? Under Nevada Revised Statutes 534A.040 only consumptive uses of water brought to the surface outside of a geothermal well are subject to the appropriation procedures of NRS 533 and 534 unless:
  • The water that is removed from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir to develop and obtain geothermal resources is returned to or reinjected into the same aquifer or reservoir; or
  • Reasonable loss of water results from geothermal well testing or temporary failure of all or part of a system that removes water from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir, transfers the heat from the water and reinjects that water into the same aquifer or reservoir.
[2] 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. NRS 533 Adjudication of Vested Water Rights, Appropriation of Public Waters (2012).
  2. 2.0 2.1 NAC 534A Geothermal Resources (2012).
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