Threats to waterway identified
October 11, 2013
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Gore Creek runs through the length and heart of Vail. It is the community's main water way. Colorado water quality authorities designated in late 2012 that the entire stream was polluted. The designation requires that a plan be adopted and implemented that brings the stream into compliance with water quality standards. The basis for the state's action was further confirmed through a consultant study sponsored by local jurisdictions, which more precisely documented the extent of the pollution. The primary cause of the contamination is urban runoff that has resulted from Vail's steady increase in urbanization since its inception.
Gore Creek, in the public's perception, has remained a relatively healthy stream and a source of pride since the community's founding. Then the state changed their evaluation criteria, adopting in 2011 a new methodology that uses unhealthy characteristics in the aquatic macro-invertebrate (bug) population as a factor to determine if a stream is polluted or not. The state found that heightened levels of certain contaminates have caused macro-invertebrates in Gore Creek, on which fish populations depend, to drop below healthy levels.
The new circumstance comes after local authorities have worked for the past two decades to contain the migration of road sand into Gore Creek resulting from the sanding during the winter of Interstate 70 over Vail Pass. Road sand fills in the stream bed smothering macro-invertebrates and causing bank erosion widening the stream bed and flood zone.
The study concludes that a significant amount of land has been covered by pavement and buildings, otherwise known as impermeable surfaces. Pavement is a major contributing collector that concentrates and transports urban runoff that contains chemical pollutants. A significant portion of the paved surfaces are publicly owned streets and highways. Vail will be further impacted by urbanization through government plans to expand the amount of pavement through widening roadways and contemplated expansions to I-70.
The town is beginning the process of adopting a variety of strategies to reduce the contamination. Some of these strategies could disproportionately place a heavier burden on property owners who own high value stream frontage. Most privately owned land in East and West Vail fronts directly on Gore Creek, whereas in main Vail, there are Town owned green belts along Gore Creek. Planners are recommending increasing building setbacks from streams, establishing regulations for "no-mow" zones, controls over fertilizing and the restoring of native stream side vegetation. New development might find that it has to comply with much more stringent runoff controls and treatment costs.