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Thu February 27, 2014
New Mexico Town Worries Over Hot Springs
The New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences not only has a funny name, but a funky history.
It was called Hot Springs, named for the ancient mineral water that bubbles beneath its downtown. Early settlers braved Apache raids to soak in these so-called healing waters.
Today the town’s economy is built around those springs, and there are concerns about how much of that precious natural resource is left.
- Mónica Ortiz Uribe, correspondent for Fronteras Desk, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest that focuses on the border, immigration and changing demographics. She tweets @MOrtizUribe.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: It's HERE AND NOW.
The New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences not only has a rather unique name, it's also got a funky history. It was once called Hot Springs, named for the ancient mineral water that bubbles beneath its downtown. Today, the economy of the town is built around those springs, but there are concerns about how much of the precious natural resource is left. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.
MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: This is the water that draws most visitors to Truth or Consequences. At a local hotel, visitors soak in outdoor pools that sit near the bank of the Rio Grande River and overlook a mountain shaped like a turtle shell. The mineral-rich water is pumped from an underground aquifer. Its temperature typically hovers above 100 degrees.
JESSICA WEINER: It's really relaxing. It's soft, and it's gentle, and it's comforting. And it's taking a bath in Mother Earth.
URIBE: Jessica Weiner(ph) loves this water. After a soak, her skin glows with a pink hue. She's been coming here for the past 16 years. The first time was by chance on a road trip with a friend.
WEINER: I didn't even want to come, you know? Like, the name of the town, Truth or Consequences, it's like, you know, weirded me out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES")
RALPH EDWARDS: Hello there. We've been waiting for you. It's time to play "Truth or Consequences."
URIBE: It is a weird name that comes from this TV game show. For its 10-year anniversary, host Ralph Edwards promised to broadcast the show from the first town that agreed to change its name to Truth or Consequences. On April 1, 1950, Hot Springs, New Mexico, did just that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Senator, I hereby christen the city of some 8,000 people Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
URIBE: Today, locals call the town T or C for short. It got its start in the early 1900s when a huge federal dam project started construction nearby. Weary workers would venture five miles from their base to seek out women and booze in the tiny outpost. After the dam was completed in 1916, people stuck around for the hot mineral water. In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt funded a hospital here where children with polio received therapy in a giant pool.
These days, T or C is dotted with locally owned hotel spas that feature in-house mineral baths, like this one at the Charles Motel. It's in a 70-year-old bath house named after a soldier who died in World War II. Kathy Clark is the owner.
KATHY CLARK: In my estimation, this is some of the best water in the world, and the reason being is it's got 36 different minerals and compounds in it.
URIBE: These bath houses contribute nearly half the city's lodgers' tax. A decade ago, when the economy was stronger, outside interest in the town began to grow.
CLARK: People were moving here from New York, people were moving here from back east, from California, and so there was a small, like, four, five-year period of the boon here.
URIBE: The number of well permits suddenly spiked from a few dozen to 150. That's when locals began to worry. Juan Fuentes is the city manager.
JUAN FUENTES: Some wells out in the community were not producing how they used to produce. So there was a concern about what was happening to the aquifer.
URIBE: In 2012, the city issued a moratorium on future well permits and commissioned a study led by hydrologist Mark Person of New Mexico Tech University. He found that the town's water supply was stable but discovered that not everybody was keeping track of how much water they used.
MARK PERSON: We were somewhat concerned that they might be using almost all of the potential geothermal fluids.
URIBE: That's a problem, he says, especially as outside interest in the town continues to grow. Consider the mild climate, the low-cost housing and even the new age medicine appeal.
SHERRY FLETCHER: Sometimes it's better to soak in the mineral baths and have a massage...
URIBE: Local historian, Sherry Fletcher.
FLETCHER: ...than it is to take a handful of pills that may end up adversely impacting your liver.
URIBE: Last year, billionaire Ted Turner, founder of the TV news network CNN, bought one of the largest hotels in the hot water district. And 20 miles south of town, a multimillion-dollar commercial spaceport is under construction. The city of T or C is currently drafting new regulations that would expand their water monitoring efforts in the hopes of better protecting a unique resource central to their identity.
For HERE AND NOW, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe, reporting from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
And Monica's story comes to us from the Fronteras Desk, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest that focuses on the border, immigration and changing demographics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.