Probing Pagaosa’s Springs

The small town of Pagosa Springs is named for its claim to fame: the largest and deepest hot springs on the planet.

The springs provide a tourist draw—and a renewable energy source. Since 1982, the town has operated a geothermal heating system, supplying hot water used for space heating to 13 commercial and two residential customers, including local schools, churches, a bank and the jail. Still, residents of Pagosa hope to do more, like use thermal energy for additional space heating, to warm a system of greenhouses, to develop a fish hatchery, maybe to create a botanical education program—maybe.

“We do feel that this is something the community will take pride in— it will highlight this great resource.” – Kathy Keyes

“We’re trying to look at the resources we have here—of course geothermal is one,” says Phil Starks, sanitation supervisor for Pagosa Springs. At the town’s bidding, students from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden and researchers with the Frisco-based Geothermal Management Company are conducting a feasibility study this year to determine whether Pagosa’s hot springs can be further developed and to identify the degree of additional
energy that could be obtained.

One concern researchers will evaluate is whether additional development could deplete the springs or cause decreases in pressure that would impact existing geothermal users. Provided the researchers find that is not the case, they will suggest additional ways to make use of the water, most likely for additional space heating, aquaculture or agribusiness, says consultant Gerry Huttrer with the Geothermal Management Company.

A positive outcome would please the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership, a group that’s been working to engage the community and obtain land, water and funding to build greenhouses where residents can grow food, educate their children and attract tourists. “We do feel that this is something the community will take pride in— it will highlight this great resource,” says Kathy Keyes, a founding member of the partnership. “It’s an intrinsic resource that we can use to further ourselves.”