RAPID/Geothermal/Utah/Water Access & Rights

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Utah Geothermal Water Access & Water Rights(19-UT)

In Utah, any diversion and use of geothermal fluids requires the acquisition of a water right. See Utah Code 73-22-8. Under the Utah Geothermal Resource Conservation Act (UGRCA), Utah defines geothermal resources as: "the natural heat energy of the earth at temperatures greater than 120 degrees centigrade; and the energy, in whatever form, including pressure, present in, resulting from, created by, or which may be extracted from that natural heat, directly or through a material medium. Geothermal resource does not include geothermal fluids." UC 73-22-3(5).

Under the UGRCA, geothermal fluids are defined as, “water and steam at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius naturally present in a geothermal system.’’ UC 73-22-3(4).

Both direct use and industrial scale geothermal projects are regulated as a water resource in Utah. The Utah Division of Water Rights (UDWR) has jurisdiction over geothermal resource acquisition. Developers must submit an Application to Appropriate Water to the UDWR in conformance with UC 73-3 - Water Appropriation. The UDWR will advertise the application, potentially hold a public hearing in response to protests, and only issue the permit to appropriate if the application meets the criteria in UC 73-3-8.

Typically the appropriation process takes from 90-180 days. However, that time frame estimate does not include perfection of the water right. Perfection of the water right includes constructing works to put the water to beneficial use and providing proof of such to the UDWR.

Where the geothermal facility requires water or 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, or a new or changed water right.

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

Utah Federal

Water Right Agency: Utah Division of Water Rights
Water Right Classification: Prior Appropriation [1] None. Water rights classifications are defined at the state-level.
Geothermal Right Classification: (Water)

Ownership of geothermal resources derives from an interest in the land however, any diversion and use of geothermal fluids requires the acquisition of a water right. See Utah Code 73-22-8. Under the Utah Geothermal Resource Conservation Act (UGRCA), Utah defines geothermal resources as:

"the natural heat energy of the earth at temperatures greater than 120 degrees centigrade; and the energy, in whatever form, including pressure, present in, resulting from, created by, or which may be extracted from that natural heat, directly or through a material medium. Geothermal resource does not include geothermal fluids." UC 73-22-3(5).

Under the UGRCA, geothermal fluids are defined as, “water and steam at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius naturally present in a geothermal system.’’ UC 73-22-3(4).
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? Yes- Permit required from the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Utah Division of Water Rights to appropriate any waters within the state. 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. Utah Code Title 73, Chapter 3, Appropriation (2012).
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