A projected water pumping turbine project in Mineral County could have an added benefit of helping restore Walker Lake.

Mineral County’s Walker Lake could benefit from a potential water pumping turbine project that would help in restoring the lake. (Tanya Bunch photo)

By Kirk Kern, MCIN Staff

A projected water pumping turbine project in Mineral County could have an added benefit of helping restore Walker Lake.

Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy, LLC, met with representatives from the Mineral County Economic Development Authority, the Hawthorne Army Depot and several people from the Walker River Paiute Tribe in September to discuss his company’s plan to develop a pumped hydroelectric storage project that would be an enlargement of the upper reservoir at Rose Creek and construction of a smaller reservoir near the Walker Lake shoreline.

“The economic benefit would be very significant,” Shapiro said. “During the construction phase, there would be hundreds of construction jobs, and the ripple benefit from that. Following construction, operating the project wouldn’t take a large staff. However the project would generate very significant tax revenues over its considerable lifetime.

“In addition to that, if the desalination aspect is feasible and is realized, it would help restore the health of Walker Lake, which in turn benefits the fisheries and recreational aspect of the local economy.”

Water levels have dropped significantly at Walker Lake through the years as upriver irrigation has reduced the size of the lake by 20 percent. As less water has funneled into the lake, it has also caused the salt and other mineral levels to increase to the point where it couldn’t support many of the fish and other wildlife that called the lake home.

Shelley Hartmann, executive director of the economic development authority, met with Gridflex Energy executives in September and said the project would be a great benefit to both the local economy and the recreational community.

“Walker Lake is an asset that has lost some its value a the waters dwindle and the TDS count rises,” she said. “If the company can truly achieve what their proposal says they can, and if all the governing agencies will allow the project, it could revive our fishing and boating uses of the lake. Right now, there are fewer boaters every year, and fewer fishermen as the water levels have fallen. We wish them well.”

Shapiro couldn’t give a timeline for the project as it depends on whether the project is deemed feasible, whether there’s a market for the power and the proposed desalination function and how the pace of permitting and licensing goes.

“The preliminary permit would allow for an initial study period of three years,” he said. “But it could take less time than that, or more time, before an actual license application is filed. Construction would probably take two to three years. Optimistically, we’d probably be looking at 2019 or 2020 before the project would be online.

Gridflex Energy has proposed similar Nevada projects in White Pine County and in Clark County, along with several other states. Shapiro said it found Mineral County to be attractive because the Rose Creek reservoir could be expanded as the upper reservoir instead of having to build one from scratch along with the high vertical drop over a short distance it provides.

“It is actually this available head that creates the second major advantage to this location: the potential ability to use that very high head to drive both power generation and a reverse osmosis process that would help clean Walker Lake,” Shapiro said. “There is also a transmission available nearby. Finally, there is the interest in commercializing area resources to help strengthen the local economy.”

So far, Gridflex Energy has only applied for a FERC preliminary permit, which is only a feasibility study.

“We won’t know until these studies progress whether the project will materialize,” Shapiro said. “There are many variables to a pumped storage project. However, this one is unique in the world and we hope that it will eventually make a great contribution to the area.”