Geothermal/Water Quantity

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Geothermal Water Quantity

Water Quantity
Present, Potentially Affected

  • BLM-NV-WN-ES-08-01-1310, NV-020-08-01 (Blue Mountain Geothermal Well Field and Power Plant EA)
  • DOE-EA-1621 (Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) Deep Geothermal Well and Power Plant Project EA at Klamath Falls Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Power Plant)
  • DOE-EA-1733 (Calpine Enhanced Geothermal Systems Project EA at Geysers Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOE-EA-1849 (EA for Northern Nevada Geothermal Power Plant Project at McGuinness Hills Geothermal Area)
  • DOI-BLM-CA-017-05-051 (Basalt Canyon Geothermal Pipeline Project Environmental Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Report for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-CA-C050-2009-0005-EA (Engineered Geothermal Enhancement System Demonstration Project EA at Geysers Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2009-0018-EA (Environmental Assessment of Magma Energy Soda Lake Well 41B-33 for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2010-0006-EA (Gabbs Valley and Dead Horse Wells Geothermal Exploration Projects EA for Geothermal/Exploration)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2010-0010-EA (EA at Coyote Canyon and Dixie Meadows for Geothermal/Exploration Drilling and Well Testing)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2010-0016-EA (EA for Airborne Electromagnetic Survey at Patua Geothermal Project for Geothermal/Well Field, Geothermal/Power Plant)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2011-0001-EA (Coyote Canyon Utilization Project EA for TGP for Geothermal/Power Plant)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2011-0516-EA (EA for Thermal Gradient Holes at Dixie Meadows Geothermal Exploration Project for Geothermal/Exploration, Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2012-0029-EA (Tungsten Mountain Geothermal Exploration Project EA for Geothermal/Well Field Drilling and Well Testing)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2012-0051-EA (Coyote Canyon South Geothermal Exploration Project EA for Geothermal/Exploration)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-CO10-2011-0501-EA (EA for Phase II Production Wells and Thermal Gradient Holes at Patua Geothermal Project for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-W010-2010-0004-EA (New York Canyon Geothermal Exploration Project EA for Exploration Drilling and Well Testing)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-W010-2011-0001-EA (EA of the Leach Hot Springs Geothermal Exploration Project at Grass Valley Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Exploration, Geothermal/Well Field Drilling and Well Testing)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-W010-2012-0057-EA (EA for Well 15-12 Hydro-Stimulation at Brady Hot Springs Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-W010–2012–0005–EA (EA for Development Drilling at New York Canyon Geothermal Utilization and Interconnect Project for Geothermal/Power Plant, Geothermal/Transmission, Geothermal/Well Field)
  • DOI-BLM-NV-W030-2010-0006-EA (EA for Drilling and Flow Testing at San Emidio Geothermal Exploration Project for Geothermal/Exploration)
  • DOI-BLM-OR-P040-0021-EA (EA for Exploratory Wells at Midnight Point and Mahogany Geothermal Exploration Projects, Glass Buttes, Oregon for Geothermal/Exploration)
  • DOI-BLM-UT-C010-2010-0042-EA (EA of Cove Fort/Sulphurdale Geothermal Utilization Plan for Geothermal/Power Plant)
  • DOI-BLM-UT-W020-2009-0028-EA (EA for Thermal Gradient Holes at Drum Mountain Exploration Project for Geothermal/Exploration)
  • DOI-BLM-UT-W020-2010-0042-EA (EA for Thermal Gradient Holes at Drum Mountains and Whirlwind Valley Geothermal Exploration Projects for Geothermal/Exploration, Geothermal/Well Field)
  • EA for Well Field Development at Patua Geothermal Area - DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2011-00016-EA (EA for Phase II of Patua Geothermal Project for Geothermal/Exploration, Geothermal/Well Field)
  • EA-NV-030-07-006 (EA for Exploration Drilling at Carson Lake Corral Geothermal Area for Geothermal/Well Field)
  • LLNV-WO1000-2009-0002-EA (EA for Observation Wells at Jersey Valley II Geothermal Exploration Project)
  • NV-020-03-26 (Desert Peak 2 Geothermal Project Environmental Assessment for Geothermal/Power Plant)
  • NV-020-07-EA-01 (EA for Observation Wells at Jersey Valley Geothermal Exploration Project for Geothermal/Well Field, Geothermal/Exploration)
  • NV-063-EA06-098 (Reese River Valley Geothermal Exploration Project Environmental Assessment)
  • NV-EA-030-07-05 (EA for Thermal Gradient Holes at Salt Wells for Geothermal/Exploration)

States govern water law rights and regulate use permits. Most eastern, and some southern and midwestern states states follow the Riparian Doctrine. Riparian landowners have equal allotted “reasonable use” in all navigable water sources such as streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes. “Reasonable use” is water taken for suitable and beneficial purposes. Usage cannot impede others from obtaining their equal water share since no one individual or government entity owns the water. In water shortage years, the shortage is still shared and no storage is allowed. Riparian rights apply to activities such as recreation, irrigation, drinking, drilling, and livestock watering.

Western states follow the Prior Appropriation System since water shortages occur often. “First in time, first in right” applies to prior appropriation, meaning the senior water rights holder will receive water resource priority. While navigable waters are public access, the actual water take is allocated for private permit holders. This system also controls water resource timelines and consumptive and appropriate use. To avoid wasted water resources, all takes must be within beneficial use and used within a reasonable timeline. In water shortages, senior rights holders will receive the amount indicated on their permit and the rest is not shared, however, exceptions do apply. Water storage is permissible up to five years.

Land beneath navigable waters is either private or public land. If the land is public land, it is governed the same as other public lands. State courts typically resolve all property and allowable activity disputes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Water Rights Definitions

Colorado Division of Water Resources-Prior Appropriation

During geothermal development, water is used for well drilling, cement casing, pipelines, mud drilling mixtures, water circulation between the reservoir and well, heating and cooling steam, and dust suppression. Managing water source availability slows groundwater depletion and unplanned aquifer recharge.

Water from geothermal sites are subsequently used as:

  • Drinking water to go onto a public water treatment plant
  • Untreated ground water and surface water
  • Treated effluent
  • Reclaimed or recycled water

Water Quantity Impacts & Mitigation

Increasing the sustainability of the underground reservoir and decreasing the amount of water needed for other operations ensures long-term site production. Impacts and mitigations of water usage include the following.

Excessive pumping:

  • The biggest impact is a lowered water table. If the underground reservoir levels get too low, deepen the pump and well or drill a new well. To mitigate further impacts, recharge wells at the same rate and volume as withdrawal.
  • Pumping can lead to saltwater intrusion. Freshwater and saltwater are separated in the water table; however, pumping can disrupt stabile soils. Saltwater is jolted upward and inland to contaminate freshwater sources. To mitigate saltwater intrusion, monitor pumping rates, soil stabilization, freshwater composition and reservoir recharge levels.
  • Pumping can intercept the free flows between groundwater and surface water sources. This creates an imbalance in each of these sources, which can impact riparian habitats, wildlife, aquatic species, and public drinking water. Monitor the bodies of water in which the water table flows into.
  • Check the soil composition, bedrock and soil compacts to predict whether or not the land can support a drilling operation to mitigate land subsistence.

United States Geological Survey-Groundwater Depletion

Water withdrawn:

  • Withdrawn waters common use is for heat exchangers and cooling water makeup.


  • Use water-based muds instead of oil-based muds to decrease post-operational disposal and reinjection impacts.
  • Drill the borehole as small as possible to decrease water usage in mud, cement casings and hydraulic stimulation.

Water loss:

  • Ensure pumping system stability to mitigate additional water injections to the reservoir.
  • Wet air-cooling or hybrid cooling systems use large water quantities, however, allows the water to be reusable.
  • Evaporation can occur in areas where surface reservoirs hold water to be reinjected into the ground. Monitor water levels to ensure product sustainability.

Onsite water efficiency:

  • Reuse water during construction for mud drilling and hydraulic stimulation fluids to mitigate reservoir pressure changes.
  • To decrease the overall water usage, reuse drilling fluids when drilling more than one well. Return geothermal fluids into the underground reservoir for proper disposal and to replenish the water supply.
  • When possible, use other water sources besides freshwater. These sources include, oil and gas production water, carbon capture and storage production water, and saline groundwater.

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy-Water Use in the Development and Operation of Geothermal Power Plants

Factors Affecting Water Quantity

Water right permits can delay geothermal land development, especially in western states.

Planning for Water Use

  • Allow time to apply, acquire or transfer water right permits
  • Prepare the water timeline and water amount needed onsite
  • Understand other permit holder’s water resource exigency

Geothermal Resource Council- Overview of Western Water Law and WA/OR Water Rights