Wabuska Hot Springs

The Wabuska geothermal area is located at the margin of Mason Valley, in Lyon County, Nevada, where both the valley margin and the thermal springs coincide with a northeast-trending zone of faults referred to as the Wabuska lineament. Hot springs, about 1.6 km north of Wabuska, range in temperature from 59 to 72°C and occur over a large area. Gas bubbles issue from the pools with a faint odor of H2S. The springs occur along an east-west line that coincides with the course of a post-Lahontan fault, which is plainly shown by an irregular scarp, in some places 6 m high. The springs occur in circular mounds; the water is collected in small basins and evaporates, forming saline deposits.

The American Sodium Co., using evaporating ponds, refined and shipped sodium sulfate from here in the 1930s. Samples of mixed sodium chloride and sodium sulfate from surface incrustations reportedly show minor amounts of potash but no other significant associated elements.

Wabuska has the distinction of having the first geothermal power plant constructed in Nevada; additionally, the plant is the smallest and produces electricity from the coolest reservoir. In 1959 Magma Power Co. drilled three steam wells in the Wabuska area. Two of the wells were shallow (less than 183 m) and the third was drilled to 678 m, with a maximum reported temperature of 108°C. Several water wells in this area have temperatures above 27°C, and a well about 6.4 km to the southeast reportedly has 21°C water. Samples of water from the Magma Power Co. wells yield estimated reservoir temperatures of 145 and 152°C.

In 1972 Agri-Technology Corp. built greenhouses near the site of the steam wells. The company planned to grow vegetables hydroponically, using water from the wells to heat the greenhouses, but the venture was not successful. A geothermally powered ethanol plant, using grain as a feedstock, was constructed by Tad's Enterprises at Wabuska in the early 1980s and produced alcohol for gasohol for several years. The area has also been the site of efforts to grow spirulina algae as a human dietary supplement and several pilot studies to raise Malaysian prawns, catfish, and tropical aquarium fish. By 2002, none of these non-electric uses were active.

Currently, there are two 0.6 MW binary units at Wabuska that produce from a 107°C reservoir at 107 m and that discharge spent fluids to a wetland rather than reinjecting the fluids. Wabuska 1 was put into operation in 1984, and Wabuska 2 was operational in 1987. A retrofit in 1997 changed the working fluid from fluorocarbon to iso-pentane. The Egbert family purchased the plant from the Townsend family in 2000.

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