Vail Daily column: Clock is ticking for the creek
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.
The town of Vail is not presently obligated to do anything to clean up Gore Creek. That, however, begs the question of whether the town will pick up the leadership banner, given the importance of the creek to the community. It is, after all, the town of Vail that has the most to lose from a polluted creek. And that is a situation that cries out for political leadership from the town.
From an action standpoint, the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan provides a good blueprint, but it is not yet clear what the town will do. So far the town's initial efforts seem to be directed at the regulation of pesticides and fertilizers and some site specific actions while it evaluates whether to: Impose penalties for removal of riparian vegetation, increase stream set-backs, create "no-mow" buffer zones, require increased landscaping and storm water treatment at parking sites and undertake aggressive enforcement of illegal dumping into the creek.
Yet to be addressed are the critical questions of whether the town will take the lead in managing the overall cleanup by itself or through the creation of a new agency, and what the source of funding for the cleanup will be. Also still to be addressed are the more sensitive questions of what might be required of stream-side homeowners in the way of repair or restoration — such as the reintroduction of native plant species to filter the creek — or what might be necessary to deal with urban runoff. Nor has the town decided whether to impose best management practices in key areas such as regulation of pesticide and fertilizer application.
Also not yet addressed are the obligations of the Department of Transportation and the federal government for mitigating the detrimental effects of Interstate 70 runoff. It seems logical that a significant portion of the pollution of Gore Creek comes from the maintenance of (mag chloride) and traffic use (hydrocarbons) of I-70. And, while the Department of Transportation has built collection ponds along Vail Pass to prevent traction sand flow-through to Gore Creek and has a road sand removal program, there are no runoff collection ponds west of mile marker 182 and no treatment facilities for any of the runoff. What the obligation of CDOT and/or the federal government is, or should be, to contribute to the solutions for Gore Creek is a consideration which should be addressed.
Although regulation of private property adjacent to the creek will potentially be a contentious issue, dealing with urban runoff could be an even bigger problem. The town will have to consider the adoption of uniform regulations and/or mandatory best management practices for the collection and disposal of that runoff. It may even ultimately have to build a runoff collection and treatment system.
If upgrades to the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District's existing plants alone have a $62 million price tag, then the cost of storm water collection and treatment facilities could be many times more. The financial impact of such actions cannot be judged at this time since there might be sources of state and federal funding that could substantially reduce the financial burden on local taxpayers.
What the district is doing is much more extensive and the cost will be greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase, but the district's actions have received little public attention, scrutiny and critical debate within the context of the larger cleanup obligations, particularly among nonresident property owners, many of whom are eligible to vote in the May 6 election. Importantly, these improvements will not offset pollution in the Gore Creek drainage above the Vail treatment plant.
Still, the clock is ticking. It has now been over two years since Gore Creek was designated as impaired. And it is not just Gore Creek but rather the entire Gore Creek drainage that needs to be addressed. That includes the Gore Creek tributaries of Black Gore, Booth and Red Sandstone creeks, as each delivers inflows into Gore Creek. Much can be expected in the coming months as the town has committed to develop a Strategic Action Plan by December. The Vail Homeowners Association intends to closely monitor the situation and will regularly report on developments.