Geothermal Frequently Asked Questions
Churchill County, in cooperation with the Nevada Division of Minerals (NDOM), Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR), Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), and the Nevada Attorney General (AG) have jointly prepared this FAQ to address public safety and permitting issues relating to geothermal wells. This FAQ is intended to primarily address residential or small commercial use of geothermal wells for space heating purposes.
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1. Can I have more than one domestic well on my parcel?
No. Any and all other wells on your property must be permitted for something other than domestic purposes or must be decommissioned and sealed. The State Engineer’s staff is available to assist with permitting or decommissioning questions.
2. Can I still use my flowing artesian well for domestic space heating if I install a valve?
Yes. The use of water must only be to the extent necessary for heating and all used geothermal water must be injected back via an injection well. A Permit for domestic heating may be obtained from NDOM. If water is re-injected, an injection permit must be obtained from NDEP.
3. Do I need a water right for my domestic well?
No. A domestic well right is an allowance provided by law. Domestic use of water from a well in Nevada is defined as water from one well for one single family dwelling and related landscaping and domestic animals for up to two acre feet of water per year. Geothermal space heating, within the limits of the two acre foot allowance for one dwelling, may be considered part of the domestic use under Nevada law.
4. Do I need a water right?
If you produce the hot water and only extract the heat and inject all the water back, no water right is required from NDWR but a permit to re-inject is required from NDEP and a permit for domestic heating is required NDOM.
5. How hot does my well water need to be to be considered Geothermal?
The State of Nevada does not define a specific temperature to be considered geothermal.
6. Is it legal to dispose of my geothermal water on the surface of the ground?
No, unless the consumptive use of groundwater is permitted by NDWR. NDEP also requires a discharge permit to insure that the water quality of the receiving waters, if any, is not degraded.
7. Is the geothermal resource a water right or a mineral right?
Nevada defines the geothermal resource as the natural heat of the earth and the owner of the property owns the underlying geothermal resources unless they have been reserved or conveyed to another person, the same as mineral rights.
8. My well has been flowing this way for years. Could it be grandfathered in without a valve or a permit?
No. There is no provision in Nevada law for grandfathering in these old wells. The waste of artesian water is unlawful and all wells must be controlled at all times. The condition of the physical well is the responsibility of the owner of the land upon which the well is located and is separate from any water use permitting. The use of water must be authorized as a domestic well right or by water right permit or claim of vested right.
9. There are many hot water geothermal wells throughout Nevada that are used for domestic heating or other small commercial purposes. Some of these wells flow artesian at the surface and may pose a physical hazard and a danger to humans and animals from scalding temperatures in excess of 130°F. What are my responsibilities as a property owner with a flowing geothermal well?
To prevent the waste of artesian water from any well in Nevada, each well owner is required by law to provide the necessary valves, well seal, plugs or other appliances to control the loss of artesian water above or below the ground surface.
10. What do I need to do to make my geothermal well legal?
Contact a Nevada licensed well service contractor or plumbing contractor to install a valve to control the water flow. A licensed well contractor is required if you have a well that needs to be decommissioned and sealed. Contact NDEP, NDOM and NDWR for any permitting related questions.
11. What if I only have the one well and dispose of the water to my septic and leach field or to the surface, can I still use my well for heating and is a permit required for that?
Yes. All groundwater produced at the surface and not returned to the source does require a water right permit from NDWR, Office of the State Engineer. NDWR is the principal agency responsible for regulating all wells in Nevada. A discharge permit will also be required by NDEP.
12. What other dangers may occur from flowing artesian wells?
If a well is allowed to flow hot water at the surface for long enough, or the annular space between the casing and borehole was not cemented from the top of the producing interval to the surface to prevent waste and to prevent any communication with fresh groundwater, washouts may occur around the well, and sometimes just below the ground surface as the water follows the path of buried pipes or other conduits and this may cause the ground to become unstable. At Yellowstone National Park for example, there are many warning signs to not walk in certain areas because of this fact.