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Famous hot springs in Colorado offer more than meets the eye

Posted at 9:38 PM, Jan 13, 2020

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. – Tucked beneath the San Juan Mountains, you’ll find the town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

“There’s all kinds of folks that live here,” said Andrea Phillips, the Pagosa Springs Town Manager.

If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably because of the town’s hot springs

“You see the steam every morning when you’re coming off the mountain when you’re coming off the roads, it’s just, iconic,” said Shane Lucero, who is the sales director for the Springs Resort, one of three hotels in town with hot springs access.

Pagosa is home to the world’s deepest hot spring, probably.

“There have been attempts to measure the depths of the springs," said Andrea.

“And when they measured it, the plumb line ran out at over 1,000 feet," said Shane.

In 2011, a hydrologist tried to measure the depth of the spring, but never hit bottom.

"And it’s just kind of mind blowing to think that the Eifel Tower could fit in that hot spring,” said Shane.

No one actually knows how deep the mother spring goes.

"The term ‘Pagosa’ actually means stinking water or, what’s the other term? Healing waters,” said Andrea.

“The biggest reliever is stress relieving. You sleep better at night, you feel better, your skin feels better and it’s an awesome way to spend an afternoon,” said Shane.

But that’s not all this hot water can do.

“We are in the Pagosa Springs Geothermal Building. This is where we take our raw geothermal water and transfer the heat into our closed loop heating system,” said Martin Schmidt,
the Pagosa Springs Director of Public Works

Translation – the springs provide heat to much of the town.

“We have a geothermal utility to about 32 different customers and that includes residential, churches, school buildings, and businesses,” said Andrea.

“144-degree water is considerable hotter than what you what get out of your tap at full tilt for heat. That’s usually maxing at 125,” said Martin.

Here’s how it works. Water comes in directly from the spring, then heats up another source of water, which gets pumped back out to the town.

In addition to homes and businesses, both the elementary and middle school are entirely heated by the springs.

“It’s so cheap that the high school, as I mentioned, is looking at adding geothermal heat,” said Martin.

The system is also used to heat the greenhouses where students learn about growing food and renewable energy…a process that’s in action as they’re learning about it.

Sally High helps run the program.

“We heat exchange the geothermal water with fresh water and then run that hot water through the floors of our three greenhouses,” said Sally High with The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership.

She teaches more than 500 students about the benefits of the geothermal system.

“I like to call geothermal direct use energy as the low hanging fruit of renewable energy. You don’t have to turn it into another form of energy for the heat to be very valuable,” said Sally.

Jason Cox knows that the springs have even more value.

“So Pagosa has the healing waters, we have the other healing waters at Riff Raff Brewing Company,” said Jason Cox, the owner of Riff Raff Brewing.

Jason actually uses the heat from the springs to make his own beer.

“We make earth powered beer, using geothermal energy from the deepest hot spring in the world,” said Jason.

And from the town, to the hotel, to the brewery, using a renewable source of heat is something they’re all proud of.

“Yeah, no emissions that I’m aware of,” said Andrea.

“We feel really good, we can sleep at night because we know we have a very small footprint on the carbon economy,” said Jason.

“With the environmental crisis that’s happening, it feels good to be able to do our part,” said Shane.

And if the side benefit is you can make some good beer, that’s ok with Jason.