Carrie Semmelroth and her border collie, Jasper, hiked up Table Rock pretty regularly. Sunday, July 20, was just another one of those hikes. At the end of it, on the way back to the car near the Bishop’s House, Jasper ran over to a little stream to get a drink and cool off.
Then Semmelroth heard a “horrific howl.” She ran over to Jasper, confused. He looked like he was just in the stream, cooling off. But he wasn’t. He was scalding. Semmelroth grabbed her dog and started pulling him out of the water when her foot slipped in. The water was almost boiling.
Paul Whitworth got a panicked phone call from his significant other and rushed to the trailhead. Jasper was badly burned, and it took only minutes for the dog they rescued from the pound seven years ago to die.
“Jasper was our hiking buddy,” Whitworth said. “It really caught us off-guard. I mean, who would expect something that dangerous, that could kill something so fast, to be open and unmarked?”
Two days earlier, the city of Boise needed to work in two manholes on Warm Springs Avenue. In between those manholes is 10 inches of distribution line, pressurized and pumping 150 gallons per minute of 174-degree geothermal water, owned by the Boise Warm Springs Water District.
For the safety of the workers, the private entity decided to turn off their pumps, according to the chairman of the board, Patrick Frischmuth. Those pumps are right next to the Bishop’s House by the Table Rock trailhead parking lot.
That water started backing up in an artesian fashion, and overflowing into a small ditch by the parking lot—something that hasn’t happened in the eight years Frischmuth has been with the company, if not longer.
“The only reason the water was even there was because we had to shut our pumps off. It was a collision of events,” Frischmuth said. “We feel very bad about [Jasper] and we’re very sorry it happened.”
The Boise Warm Springs Water District is paid for by its customers, some 300 homes and businesses heated by geothermal water. It has no connection to the city, and because of that, the city said it can’t do anything, like post warning signs.
“It’s not our property,” Vince Trimboli said. “It’s not our place to put up signs.”
After Jasper died, the Boise Warm Springs Water District did put up warning signs and orange fencing around the ditch. But Whitworth, Jasper’s owner, said he wished they would have done that before the weekend.
“With so many people hiking their dogs there over the weekend, I don’t think anyone would expect 174 degree water to be running freely,” he said.
Frischmuth agreed with the dog’s owners. His colleagues even had this conversation on Friday afternoon, two days before Jasper died.
“We said, ‘Gosh, this is a potential problem with people getting into this water.’ In fact, I made the statement, ‘It would be awful if a dog or a child got into that,’ but you don’t know what’s actually going to happen until it happens. It’s like driving down the highway, thinking, ‘It would be really awful to get in an accident,’ and then getting into an accident. We talked about it, but we could’t have solved it by any means,” Frischmuth said.
And Saturday, there was no problem. It wasn’t until Sunday that the water started to overflow and become a risk.
But Frischmuth said the company is now working hard to find a solution to keep that water underground. He said he’s having an emergency meeting with the board of directors to allocate money to engineer a solution and remove the public safety threat as quickly as possible.
As for Whitworth and Semmelroth, he said they’re still grieving.
“We really loved Jasper,” Whitworth said. “We’re pretty heartbroken about losing him, and losing him in such a traumatic way. It could have been prevented and it wasn’t.”