Boise & Garden City

Dog's death prompts hot springs changes

This story was originally published July 23, 2014.

A 40-minute hike in the Foothills near Table Rock on Sunday turned fatal for a Boise woman's dog, who jumped into 170-degree hot springs overflow water near the parking lot of a trailhead.

"We were close to the truck, " said Carrie Semmelroth, who had some ice water for her 7-year-old border collie mix, Jasper, inside the vehicle.

The dog's quick detour into a ditch in front of the Boise Warm Springs Water District pumphouse - where a narrow, shallow stream of hot springs water trickled through thick brush - resulted in howls that Semmelroth had never heard before. She rushed to aid the dog, not having any idea what was hurting him.

"The last thing in my mind was boiling hot water bubbling out of an unmarked area, " she said.

The dog was unresponsive when she reached him. She said his bottom half was in the water, which was about 170 degrees.

Without considering the danger, Semmelroth grabbed Jasper's collar and dragged the 50-pound dog out. Despite wearing running shoes, one of her feet suffered a minor burn from being very briefly submerged, she said.

She yelled for help, and people in the area tried to help her revive the dog with cool water from their water bottles. But Jasper was gone.

Semmelroth and her husband, Paul Whitworth, buried the dog in their backyard Sunday afternoon. On Monday they notified the city about what happened, and a friend sent a public service announcement to local media.

"We don't want anyone else to go through this, " Whitworth said. "It's pretty painful."

Their biggest question: Why wasn't there a sign warning people - particularly those with children and pets - of the danger of the hot springs water near the parking lot of the popular recreation area?

Shutting off pumps caused overflow

Boise Warm Springs Water District managers shut off both of the district's pumps over the weekend as a safety measure to protect those working on a sewer project on Warm Springs Avenue.

The concern was that if a backhoe hit an exposed pipe under pressure, it would be a tremendous hazard.

A one-second exposure to 159-degree water causes a third-degree burn, water district Chairman Patrick Frischmuth said.

"This poor dog had no chance, " Frischmuth said. "We're heartbroken about this whole thing."

The shutdown of the pumps caused water to filter into the overflow ditch. Frischmuth said it's very rare for there to be water in the ditch; he doesn't recall another occasion during his eight-year tenure.

The stream of water was about a foot and a half wide, according to Semmelroth and a water district employee who was there Sunday. Their estimates of the depth weren't close - the district employee said 4 to 6 inches, while Semmelroth thought it was 1 to 2 feet deep.

"I'm probably the last person you should ask about how deep it was, " Semmelroth said, noting the incident made it hard to recall.

During the winter, when the water district is pumping 1,200 gallons a minute, the water in the aquifer is 130 feet below ground level.

When the pumps are shut off, the water level rises. When the holding reservoir at the pumphouse fills up, the water goes through an underground pipe to the overflow ditch. From there, it flows 300 or 400 feet before it disappears into the ground.

On Friday, water district staff talked about the danger the rising water in the ditch could pose, and they talked about putting up a chain-link fence as a permanent barrier, Frischmuth said. After the dog's death, they put up plastic fencing and signs.

Frischmuth said he plans to call an emergency meeting of his five-member board Wednesday to discuss a long-term solution.

"Our goal is for it to be totally underground, never to be seen again, " he said.

CULPABILITY, LIABILITY

Semmelroth said Jasper was running just in front of her as they came out of the Foothills to the parking lot area near the pumphouse.

"We had looped around and were extending the walk a little longer, " she said. "I will always have shoulda, coulda, wouldas."

Boise city spokesman Adam Park said Semmelroth and her dog might have been walking on an off-leash trail in the Foothills, but the area where the dog was fatally injured would be considered on-leash, unless the dogs' owners had the permission of the property owner.

Frischmuth declined to discuss that issue Tuesday.

The water district is not affiliated with the city. It was organized under Idaho code in the 1970s, and it's supported by annual user fees, Frischmuth said. It serves fewer than 300 customers.

Park said Boise police were not notified about the incident and have no plan to open an investigation.

When asked whether they considered legal action, Semmelroth and Whitworth said they were not in a place to discuss that.

"This was a horrible thing. And I don't ever want it to happen again, " Semmelroth said.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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