Photo Credit: Bill Goloski

Boise Heats Up from the Ground Up

If you spend a day in downtown Boise, you don’t have to look far to spot the city’s unique features. Vibrant murals animate empty alleys, lush trees shelter bustling neighborhoods and the Boise River winds through the heart of the city; all of which is nestled below scenic foothills. Urban yet organic, one of Boise’s best-kept secrets is out of sight – flowing right beneath our feet.

The Boise Valley boasts a rich history with hot springs dating back to the mid-1800s and was the first U.S. city to utilize geothermal energy beyond recreation. Founded in 1892, the aptly named Boise Warm Springs Water District became the first district geothermal heating system in the nation. It’s still in use to date, serving nearly 300 homes in Boise’s East End. The Natatorium, a historical landmark on Warm Springs Avenue, first tapped into the district's geothermal system in 1892. The Natatorium was used as a hot springs swimming resort and iconic gathering place for over 40 years. After destruction during a windstorm in 1934, the city of Boise purchased the property and reopened the swimming pool. Although the original geothermal supply was never fully restored, the Natatorium is still in use in its original location. 

Currently, four geothermal heating districts deliver sustainable heat to thousands throughout the city. More than 80 buildings in downtown Boise use the system, including the iconic Idaho State Capitol, Boise City Hall and the Ada County Courthouse. In 2012, Boise State University began the development of expanding geothermal heating across the Boise River and onto campus. Approximately 600,000 square-feet of building space on campus is heated by geothermal energy. Eight buildings – the Administration Building, the Student Union Building, the Environmental Research Building, the Morrison Center, the Multipurpose Classroom Building, the Interactive Learning Center, the Math and Geosciences Building and the Micron Business and Economics Building are all connected to the system. The completed project will crown the district’s geothermal reach to 3.8 million square-feet.

Boise’s buried treasure maintains sustainability by replenishing 100 percent of water distributed throughout the city directly back into the aquifer. Beyond heat delivery, aquaculture farms, greenhouses and natural spas that tap into the system have continued to exist and expand in throughout the Valley. 

Boise’s Public Works department continues to work with geothermal districts to identify areas for improvement and expansion in the Boise Valley. Currently, the department and Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC) are teaming up to complete the geothermal loop on Broad Street in the River-Myrtle District in downtown Boise with construction anticipated to begin in spring of 2016.  Boise prides itself in honoring its history; the use and expansion of geothermal energy is just one way the city remains faithful to its core. 

Find more information on the history of geothermal energy in Boise here