Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hot springs should serve public

Sometime in the next few months, citizens of the Wood River Valley could lose one of their most precious resources to development. Hailey Hot Springs, located in Democrat Gulch three miles west of Hailey and the site of the Spring Creek Ranch development, could be developed, and with that goes any access we might have to this magnificent geothermal resource.

This is a private piece of property and the owners have every right to do whatever they want with the geothermal resource, but for those of us who have a long relationship with the hot water and understand just how unique and potentially valuable a resource like this could be to a community, there is a certain amount of sadness present as we say goodbye.

Hailey Hot Springs has a long history in the valley, going back to the 1800s when it was the site of a large hotel and spa frequented by tourists from as far away as St. Louis. It was later piped into Hailey, where it heated buildings and a pool at the old Hiawatha Hotel, where many of my friends learned to swim. In 1976, the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the quarter-cubic-kilometer geothermal aquifer below the hot springs was capable of heating much of downtown Hailey. My own children grew up using a succession of cribbed-together pools on the property, culminating finally in the beautiful kidney-shaped pool still present on site.

In an earlier attempt at developing the property by the prior owner, the water would have been used not only to heat homes and a small private spa, but would have been made available for the public at a small, public hot springs similar in scale to that found at Miracle Hot Springs in Hagerman. The water, stripped of some of its heat, would have then been used to heat low-temperature greenhouses and aquaculture ponds before it was cleaned up in wetlands and re-injected into the aquifer.

Hailey Hot Springs is one of seven geothermal sites in the Wood River Valley. All but Frenchmen's Bend, 12 miles out Warm Springs, are now privately owned. Magic Landing Hot Springs is the hottest and probably has the most potential, but Hailey Hot Springs and Guyer Hot Springs, near the Warm Springs base area, are also a very good sources of energy. This is an embarrassment of riches, but none, with the exception of Easley, is used in any way for the benefit of the public. That these precious natural resources will be used to melt driveways and heat trophy homes is a tragedy and a testament to the short-sighted nature of our current thinking.

The $750,000 that Spring Creek Ranch is offering to use Hailey's sewer system is generous, but money alone will never compensate for the loss of this precious geothermal resource. Access of some measure to the hot water by the public should be the required compensation. Money is spent quickly. Hot water, used intelligently for recreation, food production or other uses, could benefit thousands for decades. I hope the county and city of Hailey will see the Hailey Hot Springs for the special resource it is and consider this in their approval processes.

Kelley Weston


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