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Washington Water Access and Water Rights (19-WA-a)

Pursuant to RCW 78.60.060, developers that remove and reinject water in a “closed loop” system in order to obtain geothermal resources are not subject to the appropriation rules and procedures outlined in RCW 90.44 Regulation of public groundwaters. In addition, water reasonably lost during the testing of a geothermal well or the temporary failure of a “closed loop” system is exempted from RCW 90.44.

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. The Washington State Department of Ecology (WSDE) administers the rules and regulations pertaining to water rights ( RCW 90.03.380 and RCW 90.44.100) and should be consulted throughout any processes related to water rights and water access. Depending on the project location, the developer may require approval of a transfer or changed water right from both the WSDE and a local Water Conservancy Board. For new water rights, developers must obtain a permit from the WSDE, unless the water need falls within the 5,000 Gallons/day industrial exception. Regardless, for any project that requires new or additional water wells, the developer must formally notify the WSDE, hire a licensed well driller, and submit a water well report within 30 days after constructing the well.

Water Access and Water Rights Process

19-WA-a.1 – Calculate Project Need

The developer will need to contact a water engineer/consultant to calculate the amount of water the activity (e.g. exploration, drilling, construction, operation) will require.

19-WA-a.2 – Locate Appropriate Source of Water Supply

The developer with the assistance of the water engineer/consultant must locate an appropriate source of water supply based on the activity’s water requirement.

19-WA-a.3 – Is the Supply from a Municipal Supply or Other Governmental Supplier?

IF the developer will obtain the water from a local municipality, the developer may purchase water from the municipality through a tap fee, and in most cases continue with the project without obtaining a water right permit. In addition, the developer may obtain water from a water district, water sanitation district, metropolitan district, or a water conservancy district.

19-WA-a.4 – Is the Supply from a Lease Supplier with an Already Permitted or Decreed Water Right?

If the developer will obtain water through a short-term lease supplier with an already decreed water right, the developer may be able to continue with the project without obtaining a new water right.

19-WA-a.5 to 19-WA-a.7 – Is the Supply Decreed and/or Permitted for the Necessary Use?

If the water supply the developer is seeking to use is not decreed or permitted for the necessary use, the water right holder seeking to lease the water must initiate a transfer or change of the water right.

Transfer or Change of Water Right:

19-WA-a.8 to a.9 – Will the Supply Require a New Water Right?

If the source of water supply will require a new water right, the developer must initiate the New Water Right Permit Process (19-WA-b). A new water right permit may be required regardless of whether the source of water supply is a surface water (e.g., lakes, rivers, streams, and springs) or groundwater supply.

New Water Right Permit Process:

However, under RCW 90.44.050 groundwater use for industrial purposes not exceeding 5,000 gallons per day is exempt from the permit process. Under the exemption, all wells for a given project apply toward the 5,000 gallon limit. In addition, the permit exemption is not available to prospective water users in certain areas that have been closed to further appropriation due to limited water availability. A developer should consult the WSDE for groundwater limitations at the specific project site. Although exempt groundwater withdrawals do not require a permit, the use of the groundwater is still subject to Washington water law and cannot interfere with a senior water right, including instream flow rules (i.e., withdrawals under the exemption establish a water right subject to the same privileges and restrictions as a water right permit or certificate). It is aslo worth noting, that a developer has the option of applying for a water right permit even if the use falls under the permit exemption.

19-WA-a.10 to 19-WA-a.12 – Will the Supply Require Drilling a New Well

If the source of water is a groundwater supply that will require the developer to drill a new well, the developer must initiate the Water Well Notice of Intent for New Well process.

Water Well Notice of Intent for New Well:

19-WA-a.13 to a.17 – Is the Supply a Transfer or Change of an Existing Water Right?

If the water supply is a transfer or change of an existing water right, the developer may need to initiate the Transfer or Change of Water Right Process (19-WA-c) as well as the Water Well Notice of Intent for Replacement or Additional Wells process (19-WA-f) if the water source is groundwater. For groundwater sources, the need to initiate the Transfer or Change of Water Right Process is based on whether the replacement or additional well(s) use a different point of withdrawal as the original well(s).

Transfer or Change of Water Right:

Water Well NOI for Replacement or Additional Wells:

19-WA-a.18 to 19-WA-a.20 –Will the Project Divert, Obstruct, or Change the Natural Flow or Bed of Any State Water?

A hydropower developer may need to obtain a Hydraulic Project Approval from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for “any construction or performance of work that uses, diverts, obstructs, or changes the natural flow or bed of any fresh water or saltwater in the state…” W.R.C. §77.55.011(11); W.R.C. §77.55.021; W.A.C. §220-660-010. For more information, see:

Hydraulic Project Approval:

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Contact Information

Edit Washington State Department of Ecology
Water Rights and Well Issues Contact 360.407.6094 Visit Website

Edit Washington State Department of Ecology
Water Rights and Well Issues Contact #2 360.407.7727 Visit Website