Saturday, April 19, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Local springs better suited to relaxation than power

blue rock springs, 12/12/13

Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo features spring-fed pools that used to be a draw for tourists from across Northern California. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

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From page A1 | December 22, 2013 | Leave Comment

FAIRFIELD — Healing waters of yore just might – though it would appear to be the longest of long shots – have enough heat to someday generate geothermal electricity.

Then again, the tepid temperatures at the Tolenas and White Sulphur hot springs might guarantee that their glory days will remain behind them. Instead of power sources, they might well remain reminders of an age when people sought out mineral water to cure their ailments.

Tolenas Springs near Fairfield and White Sulphur Springs in Vallejo have temperatures of only about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That compares to more than 200 degrees at The Geysers, a geothermal hot spot in Lake and Sonoma counties that generates 725 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve a city the size of San Francisco.

The latest technology requires waters in the 165-degree range to generate electricity. On a list of 299 California hot springs by the state Department of Conservation, the Tolenas and White Sulphur springs had among the lowest temperatures.

Still, some people hope there’s enough heat somewhere under the ground to produce geothermal energy. At least, the Solano Economic Development Corporation’s energy cluster study raises the possibility.

Potential exists for developing new geothermal energy in Solano County, the November 2009 report says. Advances in technology are expanding opportunities for leveraging geothermal springs once considered too low in temperature for power generation.

It mentions Tolenas Springs, White Sulphur Springs and an unnamed spring near White Sulphur Springs as candidates. That makes geothermal energy at least a footnote in a report that focuses more on wind, natural gas and solar energy.

A Solano County environmental impact report also mentions the hot springs, but only in passing. It is not known whether significant geothermal resources exist in Solano County, it said.

Solano County Planning Program Manager Mike Yankovich said he knows of no geothermal exploration taking place in the rural county. Neither does Shane McAffee, general manager of the Greater Vallejo Recreation District. The district runs Blue Rock Springs Park at the site of the old White Sulphur Springs resort.

“There is a pond up there where I think the springs were,” McAffee said. “It’s just cold water.”

But, no matter what happens, Tolenas Springs and White Sulphur Springs have already had their day in the sun. People once flocked there not for electricity, but for their health.

Mineral springs were the rage in the late 1800s and early 1900s. People believed the springs could cure stomach ailments, kidney problems and other illnesses. They wanted more than hot water, they wanted healing water.

“As though intending that every physical ill should be provided with an antidote, healing waters are made to rush forth from the bowels of the earth and bubble up on the tops and sides of mountain chains,” J.P. Munro wrote in his 1879 book ”History of Solano County.”

Tolenas Springs is located in hills near Interstate 80 between Fairfield and Lagoon Valley. Judge Thomas Swan bought the land in 1858, built a resort and sold mineral water. Tolenas Soda Spring bottles today are sold and bought by collectors, with possible buys easily found on the Internet.

An analysis done by a San Francisco doctor in the 1800s found the waters contained such minerals as chloride of potassium, chloride of sodium, carbonate of magnesia and carbonate of iron.

The resort’s popularity dwindled over time. According to a Solano County General Plan history report, the last of the buildings burned sometime around 1924. Today, the springs remain on private property and cannot be reached by the general public.

Vallejo’s White Sulphur Springs also became popular. In an age before autos, it provided an easily reached vacation spot for Vallejo citizens and residents throughout the region.

”Of all the spots worthy of a visit in the vicinity of Vallejo, none can probably compare with the White Sulphur Springs in regard to the beauty of the surroundings,” Munro wrote.

Gen. J.B. Frisbie in the 1800s spent $135,000 building up the grounds. Munro in 1879 described a resort with a small lake that had willows, summer homes and a kiosk along its shores and an island in its center. The spring itself came from the hillside. The water was pale, bluish in color and had a slightly unpleasant odor from the sulphur.

The May 19, 1919, edition of the San Francisco Call reflected the siren call of mineral springs in general. Dozens of resorts in the region placed advertisements, from Agua Caliente in Sonoma County to Jones Fountain of Life springs in Colusa County to Parain Springs in Monterey County.

Among the ads was one for White Sulphur Springs in Vallejo. The ad pitched the spring as being the nearest to San Francisco, 5 miles from Vallejo, with refreshing baths of sulphur water, beautiful grounds, vegetable gardens and telephone service. The cost was $12 a week and up, with the roundtrip from San Francisco to Vallejo costing $1, the ad said.

Vallejo families spent the entire summer camping out at the springs. People swam in the lake. Some visitors stayed in a hotel with a sprawling porch. And, when the mineral springs rage faded, so did the resort.

People mined the hills above the resort for cinnabar used in quicksilver, said James Kern, executive director of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. In the 1920s or 1930s, miners accidentally tapped into the source for the resort pool, flooding the mine and draining the spring.

“That reduced the size of the pool there and really had an impact on the operations of the resort,” Kern said.

Vallejo bought the property in 1937. Today, the once-popular resort is a popular park.

“It is the most popular park in the city,” McAffee said. “It’s booked up for reservations all summer. Every weekend it is completely full.”

But a geothermal power plant isn’t part of the city’s or the county’s plans for the foreseeable future.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
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