RAPID/Geothermal/Water Use/Oregon

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Geothermal Water Use in Oregon

Regulatory Information Overviews

Search for other summaries about Geothermal regulations and permitting.


At a Glance

Jurisdiction: Oregon

Water Right Agency: Oregon Water Resources Department

Water Right Classification Prior Appropriation [1]

Geothermal Right Classification: (Mineral and water) Geothermal resources are characterized in Oregon as water if the bottom hole temperature is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit and as a mineral if the bottom hole temperature is greater than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Oregon claims ownership of all geothermal resources located on state land and some resources on land previously owned by the state, see ORS 273.775 to 273.790.

Is a Water Right Required to Pump Geothermal Fluids? Yes, if the bottom hole temperature is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contacts/Agencies: Oregon Water Resources Department

State Water Use Process

In Oregon, geothermal resources, including hot brines and waters associated with the resource, are considered minerals for regulatory purposes. However, the regulatory requirements differ depending on whether the temperature of the resources is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. If the resource is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit (hereafter “low-temp”), ORS 537 governs the project and requires a Permit to Appropriate from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) unless the 5,000gal/day industrial/commercial use exception applies. If the resource is 250 degrees or greater, ORS 537.090 exempts the associated water from appropriation provisions of Oregon water law and the development is only subject to the provisions of ORS 522.

Oregon defines geothermal 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 that may be extracted from, the 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, exclusive of helium or of oil, hydrocarbon gas or other hydrocarbon substances, but including, specifically:

  • 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 by-product derived from them.”

ORS 522.005.

Under Oregon water law, “Geothermal fluid” is defined as: “any ground water used for its thermal characteristics that is encountered in a well with a bottom hole temperature of less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit or any other fluid that is circulated within a well with a bottom hole temperature of less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit and used for its acquired thermal characteristics.” ORS 537.515(4).

Developers attempting to develop “low-temp” geothermal resources must abide by ORS 537.545, unless the development qualifies under an exception for industrial or commercial use in an amount not exceeding 5,000 gallons/day. OAR 690-230-0130. If the exception applies, a Permit to Appropriate is not required. 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, unless the aforementioned exception in OAR 690-230-0130 applies.

Permit to Appropriate Water

If appropriation is necessary, the developer must submit a Water Right Application Form to the OWRD. The OWRD will issue a draft order on the permit, allow for public comment and may hold a hearing. Subsequently, the OWRD will issue a final order approving or denying the water right permit, based on water policy formulated under ORS 537.505 to ORS 537.534. The developer must complete works in order to appropriate the water and put it to beneficial use. The OWRD will issue a certificate of water right for the amount shown to be put to beneficial use.

Local Water Use Process

not available

Policies & Regulations

"Water Use" is not in the list of possible values (Land Use, Land Access, Exploration, Well Field, General Construction, Power Plant, Environment, On Site Evaluation, Cultural Resources, Water Quality, Air Quality, Geological Resources, Aesthetic Resources, Waste & Hazardous Material, Water Access, Site Considerations, Transmission Siting & Interconnection, Plant Decommissioning, Biological Resources, Land Use Assessment) for this property.


  1. Oregon ORS 537 Appropriation of Water Generally (2013).

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