Algae levels in Gore Creek higher than normal |

Algae levels in Gore Creek higher than normal

Tom Boyd

It’s not easy being green.Unless you’re Gore Creek, where the currently high levels of green algae may actually be a boon for fish and wildlife habitat.Still, the recent bloom of algae on lower Gore Creek has local water officials wondering what’s going on with the Creek’s nutrient levels. There is currently much more algae in the lower portion of Gore Creek (below Vail Village) than in previous years. More algae actually means more oxygen in the water and a spike in aquatic life potentially good news for Gore Creek’s trout but still an indication of a man-made imbalance in the stream’s natural systems.”Our consensus, at least over here, is that there’s probably no negative impact on the health of the stream, but it is unsightly,” said Dennis Gelvin of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (ERWSD).The algae begins to appear below the Vail Village, leaving concern that something had gone awry with ERWSD’s water treatment at their plant in Vail (located just west of the Marriot Hotel in Vail). The treatment plant returns treated wastewater to the stream at that location but Gelvin said the plant wasn’t doing anything different this year that would lead him to believe that the ERWSD’s plant was directly responsible for the algae bloom. In fact, he said, the plant has been using a state-of-the-art ultraviolet treatment method that should leave no living bacteria in their treated water.Stormwater runoff from other locations in the village were another source of concern, Gelvin said, but he and his team were still uncertain as to the exact cause of the bloom as of Sept. 21.The reasons for such a bloom can be myriad and complicated. Low flows in the creek over the past several years, combined with higher water temperatures and lower dilution factors can all play a role in exacerbating the effects of the ERWSD’s treatment plant water output.Another factor, said the ERWD in a statement prepared for the Vail Trail, is the higher level of construction activity along Gore Creek, although the statement didn’t say how construction would add nutrients (as opposed to sediment runoff, which does not cause algae blooms).The ERWSD is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), an algae expert from Hydrosphere Resource Consultants, and wastewater treatment plant design engineers from Brown & Caldwell Environmental Engineers & Consultants to determine if the current algae levels are causing problems, other than appearance, and possible ways to lower the nutrient levels in the return flows from the Vail wastewater treatment plant (if required).The Vail Wastewater Treatment plant is typically the largest contributor of nutrients to Gore Creek. These nutrients include traces of phosphorous and nitrate nitrogen. Phosphorous is not removed in the wastewater treatment process, and nitrate nitrogen is a byproduct of the wastewater plant’s current treatment process. Both of these nutrients can lead to an increase in algae.The State of Colorado has not adopted state-wide nutrient removal standards for streams. However, the State is working to develop these standards by 2008, two years ahead of the EPA required date. Currently, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issues nutrient removal requirements for discharge on a case-by-case basis. These include wastewater treatment plants that discharge to lakes and reservoirs, or plants that discharge to impaired streams.But complete removal of nutrient flows into Gore Creek may not be desirable to fishermen and others interested in maintaining a large population of trout in Gore Creek.”It should be noted that the algae in any creek serves as an important food source for the aquatic life,” said the ERWSD’s Leslie Isom and Bob Trueblood in a statement prepared for the Vail Trail. “Gore Creek is a Gold Medal Trout Stream partially because of the increased algae levels caused by the wastewater treatment plant discharge. A complete removal of all nutrients from the wastewater plant return flows would most likely reduce the current fish population in the section of Gore Creek between the wastewater plant and the Eagle River.” VT

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