House backs bill modifying standards for natural hot springs

Posted: Sunday, February 03, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Hot springs developers will not have to meet the same standards as concrete public swimming pool owners under a bill that passed the state House on Friday.

The bill, which meets the approval of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, passed unanimously.

Rep. Hugh Fate, R-North Pole, said existing law has discouraged attempts to develop hot springs because chlorine needed to meet the standard is expensive, and bathers seeking a natural experience do not like it.

The bill would exempt hot springs from a state requirement that commercial pools contain no fecal coliform -- an indicator of human or animal waste.

Instead, the bill would allow hot springs to operate with a fecal coliform count of up to 100 colonies per 100 milliliters -- as long as the water is also free from dangerous levels of disease-causing pathogens or chemicals.

DEC's director of environmental health, Janice Adair, said that is an acceptable standard for natural hot springs, as long as a hot springs developer does not use a concrete pool.

Natural pools contain other competing bacteria that minimize the health hazard of fecal coliform, she said.

Concrete pools do not contain competing bacteria, so the standard must be lower for them, she said.

Fate sees the bill as a way to spur economic development in rural Alaska.

''There are many geothermal springs in the state of Alaska,'' Fate said. ''It's just one more way that we can accomplish getting at least some level of economy out there by development of these hot springs.''

Language in the bill is modeled on a settlement the DEC reached with Chena Hot Springs Resort last year.

The resort created its springs from an outside rock pool that cannot be effectively chlorinated.

House Bill 263 now goes to the Senate.

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