Despite this year’s severe drought, a land-based salmon farm planned for rural Northern Nevada that will use millions of gallons of recycled groundwater is still in the works.
The project will rely on a deep water table that should not be impacted by drought, a spokesman for West Coast Salmon AS — the Norwegian-based company planning the farm near the Humboldt/Pershing County line — said in a recent interview.
Three pivots that still irrigate alfalfa will disappear when fish farm construction begins, and groundwater rights will change from irrigation to commercial. Construction could begin late this year or early next year, with Phase 1 of the fish farm in production possibly by the end of 2022.
The company is watching irrigation impacts on the aquifer and will monitor the farm’s impacts on groundwater and the nearby Humboldt River, which local farmers depend on for irrigation.
“Our water rights are underground, so the drought doesn’t really impact that,” Project Manager Ralph Runge told The Humboldt Sun in June. “But we’re very sensitive to the fact that it’s one big water balance. The state engineer’s office, and the lawsuit, have been focused on what they call river capture. Are people that are pumping from the aquifer drawing from the river?
“While we’re running the pivots, we’re gathering water data so we can build a hydrological model to show what’s happening to the water table. We’ll do the same thing when we’re operating the salmon farm.”
Runge said the fish farm’s water consumption should be more consistent than crop irrigation, so there should be fewer fluctuations in the water table with less impacts on the Humboldt River.
“We’ll be spreading our consumption equally over 52 weeks so the water table will be more static, which we think will be better for the river … We’re predicated on maintaining the health of the aquifer,” he said. “If there’s issues with the water table, then we’ll have to cut back on our water use.”
West Coast Salmon first announced concepts for the Atlantic salmon farm facility after securing land with water rights at the Cosgrave Ranch in Pershing County — located roughly 70 miles north of Lovelock and 20 miles south of Winnemucca — last October.
Runge said previously the farm was in development for over a year, and while impacts from COVID-19 slowed planning, the company was planning to move forward last fall.
According to previous reports, the project is expected to move through three phases, with an increase in production from 15,000 tons beginning with phase one and total production of 60,000 tons by the end of phase three. If construction went uninterrupted, the first salmon harvest could occur as early as the second half of 2024. According to the company, the fish farm will be water-efficient because most of the water will be recycled in the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS). However, some water in the system will be purged and treated before reinjection into the aquifer.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the water is going in this loop in the facility,” Runge said in June. “You have to purge a little bit of the water out of there because metals and some things like that will build up. That’s what we treat and put back in the aquifer. It will meet drinking water standards.”
Fish tanks will be housed in a climate-controlled building to eliminate dust, smoke and any other contamination that could threaten fish health. No visitors will be allowed inside the facility, but there could be a visitor center erected to help educate the public about aquaculture, Runge said.
The RAS facility would be the largest land-based farming operation of its kind and the second land-based salmon farm in the U.S.; Danish company Atlantic Sapphire grows salmon at a farm in Homestead, Florida, as well as in Denmark, Runge said.
In terms of financing for the Nevada farm, Runge said in June company is still pursuing options to complete design and Phase 1 construction that “could start late this year or very early next year.”
“We’re getting ready for a financing round,” he said. “We’ve completed our initial design and updated our financial models and now we’re getting ready to head out to the financial markets over the summer to get some money to start construction and the detailed design.”
Last October, West Coast Salmon announced it had partnered with AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies on the project. The Israeli company provides state-of-the-art RAS used to keep the salmon’s environment healthy and sustainable.
In addition to AquaMaof, other key investors reportedly include New York City-based private equity firm Bregal Partners; Santa Monica, California-based Beach Point Capital Management; and Netherlands-based animal nutrition company Nutreco.
In the June interview, Runge said there are three advantages to the Pershing County site: It is relatively close to West Coast urban areas with big demand for salmon, and the region’s arid climate will save on energy costs.
“The third advantage is because the water table is down below 100 feet, we can partially bury the tanks, which saves us on structural and seismic costs,” Runge said. “The ground doesn’t change temperature as much so it’s a more stable temperature.”
Pershing County Water Conservation District Manager Ryan Collins said the district has no problem with the fish farm for now. The district sued the state water engineer years ago over declines in the Lower Humboldt River, allegedly due to upstream groundwater pumping.
“We looked at the salmon farm and they’re using existing water rights they already have,” Collins said. “It seems like it’s going to be a little more efficient. They’re going to use less water and they are not asking for more water than they have already been allocated.
“All they are doing is changing from irrigation to commercial use.”
West Coast Salmon may turn fish manure into fertilizer, and farmers in the region are interested, Collins added.
From an employment standpoint, in addition to hundreds of short-term construction jobs, Runge said about 75-100 “computer-savvy” employees will be needed for Phase 1 of the farm and there could be 250-300 full-time jobs available when phases 2 and 3 are completed.
“That includes technical staff like biologists, water chemists and then the operational and maintenance people,” he explained. “They may have to go to school for a period of time and we may send them off somewhere to operate a fish farm so they have experience.”
Great Basin College may offer aquaculture classes for those interested in a West Coast Salmon career, though Runge added that finding housing for aquaculture professionals new to the area would be a challenge.
NNBW Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.