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Breitenbush Hot Springs logo

Vishnu the Preserver and the Breitenbush Reservoir

Published April 22nd, 2012 in Community Perspectives

Lord-vishnu-With-snakeBreitenbush Hot Springs is all about the water. It’s in our name, it’s in the constancy of the hot springs and river that pour into and through the land, and its what provides the flow and thermal dynamics that we use to create electricity, heat and other essential services for ourselves and our guests.

It’s always been all about the water. In October of 1928, five men pressed their hands and scratched their initials into the wet concrete of their newly completed water reservoir. It was a fine accomplishment, built into the hilltop above the structure we now call the Breitenbush Office, and designed to hold some 15,000 gallons of potable water. From that time forward, it became possible to store clean drinking water pumped from the river, and to gravity-feed that water through a pipeline distribution system to the cabins and Lodge. This was an essential development in critical infrastructure allowing the new resort to offer basic modern amenities.

The late 20s/early 30s was a period of profound investment in the facilities and utilities of Breitenbush, introducing hydroelectricity, new roads, buildings and pools, among others. If they thought about it, the builders of that new reservoir would probably have doubted their creation would be in use nearly a century later—but it is, as are many of the other installations of that period (including the original Leffel turbine, which still spins at the bottom of the penstock, powered by the river, and helping us to create electricity even now).

Currently we use more than 15,000 gallons of water each day for drinking and other purposes, making the 1928 storage capacity dubiously undersized. Meeting contemporary load demand requires constant pumping. Now, after years of dreaming and planning, we are building a new water reservoir, just above the site of the original. With a capacity of 186,000 gallons, it will hold well over a week supply at our current average use rate, in addition to charging the newly installed Lodge sprinkler system.

This new reservoir is designed to hold more than water, for it also holds the key to other essential initiatives: because it protects all floors of the Lodge via sprinklers, it will allow us to restore that beautiful building to its historic qualities and occupancy; beyond the Lodge, it will assure fire suppression capability for both structural and wildland fires around the property; and with ample reserves of clean water, it will allow us to safely wait out turbid, multi-day flood events in the river; finally, because of its size, it will provide the capacity to support future developments allowed by our Conditional Use Permit. As disparate as these initiatives are, together they form the basis for both restoration and future development, not to mention essential health & safety.

In essence, we are in a position today similar to that of Merle Bruckman and his partners during the late 1920s and early 30s, and then later, Alex Beamer and the early Breitenbush Community of the late 70s. We are repairing, designing and building infrastructure and utilities that will serve people for many decades.

If you visit the springs this spring, you may witness this project as we finish building and then connecting the reservoir to pipelines that guide water to near & far destinations around the property. There may be construction activity—not exactly the pristine sight & sound of nature that one reasonably expects at Breitenbush. But if I may presume to influence your response, I would wish for you to experience this project as a physical manifestation of an ancient Vedic principle I studied during my years in India. Vishnu, Preserver of the World, was an all-pervading spirit associated with the primeval waters believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the universe. Vishnu’s essential nature was sustainability. To me, the new reservoir represents this concept beautifully, pre-serving our human need for pure drinking water while preserving our human environment by the safety that water confers. Breitenbush is all about the primeval waters, even in our “industrial” applications.