Storm drain abuse included hot dog dump
February 9, 2017
‘Storm’ vs ‘sanitary’
It’s easy to confuse “storm sewers” and “sanitary sewers.” Here’s the difference.
Lines from a sanitary sewer system — home and hotel drains — are piped into a wastewater treatment plant.
Storm sewer lines — those are the iron grates on streets and curbs — sometimes to go catch basins, but those lines eventually end up flowing into creeks and streams.
VAIL — Water on streets has to go somewhere. In Vail, that water ends up in Gore Creek. And that's a problem.
While it looks pristine as it runs through town, Gore Creek in 2013 was placed on a state list of "impaired waterways," meaning it doesn't support aquatic life as well as it should. The impairment is measured largely by the presence of small insects and other invertebrates meaning there should be more bugs along the creek in Vail.
A host of problems threaten Gore Creek in Vail, but one of the biggest is what runs through the town's storm drains.
Some of the problem will take years and a lot of money to solve. For instance, much of the runoff in town is no longer filtered through the soil, which has been replaced by pavement, concrete and rooftops throughout the years. But a number of problems may be due to people simply not knowing what happens when something runs into a storm grate.
Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden recently updated the Vail Town Council about state of stormwater and its treatment in town.
There are a number of ways to treat stormwater, including catch basins that can capture sand, oil and other material before it flows into the creek. There are 27 of those basins in town at the moment, and they're cleaned out a couple of times every year, Wadden said. Upgrading those basins would be effective, but expensive, Wadden said.
Filtration has been improved at the town's snow storage site, and improvements are planned for this year at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.
But the basins don't catch everything.
There are also more than 2,000 storm drains, many of which flow directly into the creek. Slowing the runoff is a good start at cleaning up those areas. Creating zones where runoff could filter through rocks and soil before going into the creek could be effective.
Then there's the problem of people dumping stuff into the storm grates.
During his presentation, Wadden went through a small list of stuff that people dropped into storm grates in 2016. That list includes cooking grease, paint and window cleaner.
A member of a construction crew in Vail Village dumped a bag of cement into a storm drain.
Town crews had to vacuum out the storm grate to catch as much of the powdered cement as possible. Wadden said the construction company wouldn't name the employee who dumped the cement, so no ticket was issued.
In a separate incidence, no ticket was issued to a vendor at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games who dumped 120 hot dogs down a storm drain, which resulted in another good-sized cleanup.
"People just don't know where the water goes," Wadden said.
Council members said that needs to change.
An education campaign is already under way that includes advertising on town buses, and a proposal to create awareness-raising art on town storm drains. There's also a town hotline, 970-476-4673 (GORE), to report dumping into storm drains. But that phone is only answered during normal business hours.
Council member Dick Cleveland asked if the phone could be routed into the town's emergency dispatch center.
'Easy to understand'
Cleveland also asked Wadden if the education campaign could be expanded to include some sort of notice at virtually every storm grate in town. Cleveland said that's the case in a California town near the beach.
Mayor Dave Chapin asked if notice about storm drains — along with information about fines for illegal dumping — could be part of business licenses and permits in town.
"I don't want to make this prohibitive, but this should be easy to understand," Chapin said.
Council member Kim Langmaid also called for better enforcement and education.
"It's important to realize that this kind of work needs to be integrated into all we do," Langmaid said. "People need to understand there are repercussions … that we're serious about this."