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Love Match: Man-Made Geyser, Heat-Seeking Clam

GeyserThe geyser “Old Perpetual” sits atop a geothermal basin in southern Oregon.

It’s just off a main highway,  erupts every 90 seconds — ideal for a tourist attraction — and has done so since 1923, when it was accidentally created by well-diggers drilling a hot water pipe for a nearby lodge.

The lodge, Hunter’s Hot Springs Resort, is still there. But Old Perpetual may not be for much longer, if the nearby town of Lakeview builds a geothermal electric power plant on the property next door.

Free energy really isn’t free, although it has nurtured other attractions. But Old Perpetual’s caretakers fear that the power plant will use up all the hot water, leaving the geyser with nothing to erupt. They have cause to fret; Oregon has a history of destroying its water-spitting attractions, and neighboring Washington state’s flaming geyser appears to be flickering out.

Clam.Old Perpetual, however, may have a savior. Not a human bureaucrat, but a “thermophilic ostracod” mini-clam. It turns out that Potamocypris hunteri, an itty-bitty crustacean, lives in Old Perpetual’s hot springs, water 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest known habitat on the planet.

A local conservation group has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for endangered species protection for the clam. Even if the petition is rejected, it could delay Lakeview’s plans long enough to get it to drill its hot water pipe somewhere else.

Potamocypris hunteri may never become an endangered hot-water celebrity like, say, the Devil’s Hole Pupfish. But it might keep Old Perpetual from running out of steam.

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