In many ways, Gore Creek appears a healthy mountain stream, impervious to the effects of more than 50 years of sustained development. It still meanders through 100-year-old spruce trees and mountain willows. It still cascades over gravel beds and boulders. And it’s still the backdrop for thousands of photographs every year as the epitome of a Colorado mountain stream.
But, as they say, looks can be deceiving. In 2011, Gore Creek was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters along with several other streams in Eagle County. These waters were listed because several insect species, known as aquatic macroinvertebrates (bugs), were missing from some stream sections. These indicator species, which include stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies to name a few, are important to the aquatic ecosystem. When certain species are missing, the whole system can deteriorate. The listing is “provisional,” which means the cause of low bug count is still being determined.
Recently Seth Mason, a hydrologist with the Eagle River Watershed Council, presented key findings of the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan to the Vail Town Council. The 400-page document was prepared through a partnership of the Watershed Council, town of Vail, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Vail Recreation District, Vail Resorts, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle County and town of Avon. The goal of the plan is to outline potential causes of the impairment and to suggest ways to reverse the stream’s decline. The conclusion of the report is that there is no “smoking gun,” and in fact many factors negatively impact water quality. These factors include sediment loading, road pollution, lawn care chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides and loss of riparian habitat from development.
The importance of a healthy Gore Creek cannot be overstated. In addition to its many recreational uses and its aesthetic values, it is a source for the public water system. For everyone who lives in or visits Vail, Gore Creek is an asset. With this in mind, the town of Vail has already begun to work towards addressing some of the potential causes of the creek’s decline. Changes to pesticide types and application methods, installation of storm water treatment vaults and efforts to re-establish lost riparian areas have already been implemented and more are on the way.
Town of Vail staff will work to develop an action plan towards implementing recommendations of the plan. The plan will be used to outline projects and establish budgets, to adopt stream-friendly maintenance practices and to develop an education strategy for residents, property owners and even landscape companies. Because there are many causes of Gore Creek’s decline, there are many ways to change existing practices. The goal is to ensure that water quality is considered in all that we do.
During the next several weeks, look for a series of announcements outlining what is being done, and what we can all do, to repair the Gore Creek habitat. And, keep in mind, its not just Gore Creek feeling the effects of development. The Eagle River and all of its tributaries are impacted by land use decisions throughout the valley, and what’s good for the Gore can be effective downstream as well. So, watch for more details on how we can all work together to protect these important resources.
Gregg Barrie is landscape architect for the town of Vail.
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