New water quality regulations adopted by the state of Colorado in 2012 promise to reduce the impacts of wastewater treatment discharges into Gore Creek and the Eagle River. These new regulations recognize a large body of scientific evidence that man-made contributions of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous to streams and rivers can negatively impact the structure and function of aquatic communities.
Nutrient pollution is a classic case of too much of a good thing. All aquatic organisms need some nutrients present in the system in order to survive and thrive. However, when concentrations of nitrogen or phosphorous in the water column get too high, some parts of the food chain thrive, and others suffer. Abundant nutrients allow algae to grow at a rate faster than the rest of the ecosystem can respond. These "algal blooms" decrease oxygen concentrations in the stream, potentially injuring or killing large numbers of fish. Human health is also negatively impacted by elevated nutrient concentrations.
Algal blooms may encourage the growth of types of bacteria that cause illness in humans. Some types of nutrient pollution can also be particularly harmful to infants. Thankfully, nutrient concentrations our local streams and rivers generally remain well below levels where they pose any real threat to aquatic life or human health.
Despite the fact that nutrient concentrations in the Eagle River and Gore Creek remain below thresholds the state of Colorado identifies as the benchmarks for nutrient pollution, there are some periods in any year where concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous approach those thresholds. These times typically coincide with low flows in area streams and increased occupancy rates in Vail, Beaver Creek and Avon.
In order to reduce any potential for current or future impacts on stream health due to discharges of nutrients to the stream, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is poised to begin an ambitions 15-year capital improvement project to modify the wastewater treatment processes used in their plans and reduce the concentration of nitrogen and phosphorous discharged to the Eagle River and Gore Creek.
The Eagle River Watershed Council commends the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District on its ongoing commitment to water quality in the watershed.
For more information regarding water quality conditions or concerns in the Eagle River watershed, please contact the Eagle River Watershed Council at 970-827-5406.
To learn more about wastewater treatment plan upgrades, please contact the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District at 970-476-7480.