- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - After years of talk, Washington City will be voting on the future of a naturally occurring warm spring that has long provided water to desert life and fascinated scientists.

Wednesday’s city council meeting could be the turning point for a proposal that would develop and protect the area known as the “boilers,” a warm spring that bubbles up from beneath the north edge of where Interstate 15 cuts through the city, reports The Spectrum of St. George (https://bit.ly/1FEs4vh).

The “Boiling Spring Ecoseum and Desert Preserve” would include a conservatory building, outdoor classrooms and demonstration gardens, taking up most of a 16-acre plot of land owned by the city.

“We have this totally unique ecosystem, this geological anomaly with the warm water coming up in lava tubes from Pine Valley Mountain, and we have a location where it’s actually readily accessible,” said Nicole Warner, board president of the nonprofit group behind the project.

She said the Ecoseum project would protect the area from more commercial development. If that happens, said Warner, “I just feel like we’ve lost our soul as a community.”

The boilers served as a source of water for Native Americans and irrigated fields in the early days of the Washington City settlement, according to the Washington County Historical society.

It was used for swimming, bathing and recreation until I-15 cut off access for most residents in the 1960s. Later, the spring became known as a party spot and was fenced off by city officials in 1999.

To scientists, the lava-heated springs are more than a swimming hole or irrigation source, said Biology Department Chairman David Jones of Dixie State University.

“I use the word oasis, and that’s what it is,” said Jones. “Because of the introduction of the non-native species, because of the flux, because of the water and the attraction that life has toward water, we find this little ecosystem here that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the area.”

He said scientists in the region are very interested in the proposed facility and argued that it might attract people from farther away as well.

“We live in arguably one of the most unique corners of the planet, so you have a lot of people who would want to come and do research here,” Jones said.

Proponents say the plan would allow the springs’ state-protected irrigation use to continue while serving as an educational tool and tourist attraction.

But city officials remain cautious, worried that the terms of the proposed agreement regarding irrigation won’t work out.

In the past, they’ve also expressed concerns about the length of the proposed lease, which runs for 100 years at $1 a year. And then there’s the potential of lost tax revenue from commercial developments that could go in around the springs.

Warner and a group of other founders started the movement to preserve the boilers three years ago. She’s been advocating for it ever since and insisting that the public should have input into every step of the development.

If the council votes on Wednesday to move forward with the project, it will allow developers to begin raising funds, conducting environmental assessments done and finalizing plans, said Warner


Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com



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