Alaska Water Access and Water Rights Overview (19-AK-a)
A water right is a legal right to use surface or groundwater under the Alaska Water Use Act (AS 46.15). A water right allows the holder to divert, impound or withdraw a specific amount of water, from a specific water source, for a specific use.
The ownership of land does not give landowners automatic rights to groundwater or surface water. Water is declared a public resource belonging to the people of the Alaska, to be managed by the state for maximum benefit to the public. All surface and subsurface waters on all lands in Alaska are reserved to the people for common use and are subject to appropriation in accordance with the Alaska Water Use Act. For more information on the water rights and water access process in Alaska, see the Division of Mining Land and Water (DMLW) Water Fact Sheets: Water Rights in Alaska.
According to Alaska Stat. § 41.06.060, "geothermal fluid" means liquids and steam at temperatures greater than 120 degrees Celsius or any commercial use of liquids and steam naturally present in a geothermal system at temperatures less than 120 degrees Celsius. Water at temperatures below 120 degrees Celsius must be acquired through appropriation.
HydropowerA developer must obtain a water right from the DMLW for a hydropower project. In Alaska, a water right is required even for non-consumptive uses of water. 11 AAC 93.035(b). “Non-consumptive water use” means the instream use of water, or the diversion of water where the quantity of water diverted is not diminished except by evaporation or transpiration and the water is returned to its original source at the original point of diversion immediately after its use. 11 AAC 93.970 – Definitions.
Water Access and Water Rights Overview Process
19-AK-a.1 to 19-AK-a.2 - Will the Project Require the Use of a Significant Amount of Water?
Any person using a "significant amount of water" must apply for a permit to appropriate such water (whether temporary or permanent) from the Alaska Division of Mining Land and Water (DMLW). Alaska Admin. Code tit. 11, § 93.035(b).
Alaska Admin. Code tit. 11, § 93.035 defines a “significant amount of water” as follows:
- The consumptive use of more than 5,000 gallons of water from a single source in a single day;
- The regular daily or recurring consumptive use of more than 500 gallons per day (gpd) from a single source for more than 10 days per calendar year;
- The non-consumptive use of more than 30,000 gpd (0.05 cubic feet per second) from a single source; or
- Any water use that may adversely affect the water rights of other appropriators or the public interest.
A use of less than a significant amount of water without a permit will not create any form of a water right or priority for the use of such water unless the user files an application and receives a permit or certificate from the DMLW.
19-AK-a.3 to 19-AK-a.5 - Will the Project Require the Water for Less than Five Years?
A developer needs to obtain a temporary use of water permit from the DMLW if the project will use a significant amount of water for less than five consecutive years and the water applied for is not otherwise appropriated Alaska Admin. Code tit. 11, § 93.210.
A developer needs to obtain a permit to appropriate water from the DMLW if the project will use a significant amount of water for five or more years and the water applied for is not otherwise appropriated.
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