Fish kill in Vail’s Gore Creek enters enforcement phase

Vail Resorts needs a plan by July 5 so spill in September 2021 can’t happen again

Vail Resorts must create a plan as part of the company’s required response to a notice of violation and cease and desist order from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
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A May 17 state violation notice and cease and desist order to Vail Resorts regarding a 2021 spill that killed fish in Gore Creek started a chain of events that should take another several weeks.

The spill, from a snowmaking water storage pond on Vail Mountain, put roughly 2 million gallons of algaecide-treated water into Mill and Gore creeks. The spill put a “bluish-white” tint into the creeks’ water, and killed 120 fish — as well as countless macroinvertebrates — in a roughly 1,500-foot section of waterway between Pirate Ship Park and the Willow Creek bridge in Vail Village.

Vail Resorts reported the spill to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to an email from the department’s Kaitlyn Beekman, here’s what happens in the wake of a notice of violation:

Vail Resorts — called the Vail Corporation in state documents — is required to respond to the order no later than June 20 of this year. The company has until June 15 to request a hearing on the validity of the violation.

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In response to the cease and desist order, Vail Resorts is required to develop and implement an operations and maintenance plan to ensure future compliance with the state’s Water Quality Control Act. The plan and implementation schedule must be submitted by July 5 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Control Division.

The snowmaking system on Vail Mountain had been drained before the spill, and the treated water had been sitting for months in the storage pond. Potable water continued to feed the snowmaking system.

Part of discovering the spill came from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District noticing abnormally high water use near Vail Village.

After being notified, Vail Resorts employees discovered that some isolation valves in the snowmaking system had been open since March of 2021. Maintenance in September of that year required the drain line to be open for work. The open valves caused the potable water to enter the system and flow through the pond into the creeks.

The valves were closed Sept. 20. The spill cleared quickly, and had little, if any, effect on aquatic life downstream from the Willow Creek bridge.

What happened?

A valve was opened on a pond that’s part of the Vail Mountain snowmaking system the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2021.

Another valve was also opened, allowing potable water to run into the pond. The discharge lasted until Sept. 20, 2021.

About 2 million gallons of water, much of it treated with algaecide, flowed into Mill Creek and Gore Creek.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife evaluation found 120 dead fish along 1,500 feet of Mill and Gore creeks, from roughly Pirate Ship Park to just below the Willow Creek bridge on Gore Creek.

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