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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Utah Water Access and Water Rights (19-UT-a)

The Utah Division of Water Rights uses the following process for both the acquisition of water rights and geothermal fluids. 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), a "geothermal resource" is defined as, "the natural heat energy of the earth, the energy in whatever form which may be found in any position and at any depth below the surface of the earth, present in, resulting from, or created by, or which may be extracted from natural heat and all minerals in solution or other products obtained from the material medium of any geothermal resource."

Section 8 of the UGRCA explains that "geothermal fluids are deemed to be a special kind of underground water resource." Geothermal fluids are also defined as water and steam at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius.

Both direct use and industrial scale geothermal are regulated as a water resource in Utah. The Utah Division of Water Rights (DWR) has jurisdiction over geothermal resource acquisition.

Typically the appropriation process takes from 90-180 days. This estimate does not include perfection of the water right.

Water Access and Water Rights Process

19-UT-a.1 - Application to Appropriate Water & fee

The Application to Appropriate water is filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights (State Engineer). The fee schedule is available online.

19-UT-a.2 - Advertise application

The application is advertised for two weeks in a local newspaper.

19-UT-a.3 - Were any protests filed

If protests are filed, the Utah Division of Water Rights is responsible for arranging for a public hearing.

Under Utah Code 73-3-7, any interested person may file a protest with the state engineer. The protest must be filed within 20 days of publication of the notice for an informal adjudication and within 30 days of publication of the notice for a formal adjudication. The state engineer may approve or reject the application for protest.

19-UT-a.4 - Public hearing (optional)

The Utah Division of Water Rights holds a hearing at the discretion of the state engineer. While the Utah Division of Water Rights holds the hearing, the state engineer makes the decision to approve the appropriation of water. The Utah Division of Water Rights may delay any hearings depending on the timing of the application. Hearings are held only twice a year unless a party files a special request. Under Utah Code 73-3-13, the state engineer must give the applicant notice of an adjudicative proceeding. The applicant must show diligence, otherwise the state engineer may forfeit all rights under the application.

19-UT-a.5 - Review application

The State Engineer evaluates the application and any protests.

19-UT-a.6 - Did the application meet the criteria for approval

Criteria for approval or rejection is contained in Utah Code 73-3-8. The application should be approved if:

  • There is unappropriated water in the proposed source;
  • The proposed use will not impair existing rights or interfere with the more beneficial use of the water;
  • The proposed plan is physically and economically feasible, unless the application is filed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and would not prove detrimental to the public welfare;
  • The applicant has the financial ability to complete the proposed works; and
  • The application was filed in good faith and not for purposes of speculation or monopoly.

If the application is approved, the applicant is allowed a set period of time within which to develop the proposed diversion and use water. When the diversion and use are fully developed, the applicant retains the services of a professional engineer or land surveyor who files "proof" documentation with the division showing the details of the development.

19-UT-a.7 - Construct diversion and put water to beneficial use

Any well drilled to a depth of 30 feet or greater must be constructed by a licensed Utah Water Well Driller.

19-UT-a.8 - Retain engineer or land surveyor to prepare "proof" documentation

"Proof" documentation contains the details of the development. This documentation is meant to help the State Engineer evaluation the efficiency, health and safety of the water development. It is wise to retain a professional with the appropriate credentials to document the water development.

19-UT-a.9 - Inspect diversion and use for compliance with permit conditions

The Utah Division of Water Rights may choose to inspect the diversion to ensure the project complies with all permit conditions.

19-UT-a.10 - "Proof" documentation

"Proof" documentation is assembled along with any relevant documentation from the division's inspection of the diversion. There are two sample forms provided by the division (Simple Proof and Full Proof).

19-UT-a.11 - Verification of proof documentation

The State Engineer reviews the proof documentation. If there are no defects in the documentation, a certificate of appropriation is issued.

19-UT-a.12 - Certificate of Appropriation

The certificate of appropriation contains:

  • the name and post-office address of the person by whom the water is used;
  • the quantity of water in acre-feet or the flow in second-feet appropriated;
  • the purpose for which the water is used;
  • the time during which the water is to be used each year;
  • the name of the stream or water source from which the water is diverted; or within which an instream flow is maintained; the date of the appropriation or change; and other information that defines the extent and conditions of actual application of the water to a beneficial use.

See Utah Code 73-3-17.

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