Vail’s Gore Creek seeing improving bug populations
Macroinvertebrates are essential to stream health
It looks like efforts are paying off to improve water quality on Gore Creek.
The creek, along with a number of other mountain streams, in 2012 was placed on a state list of “impaired” waterways. Since then, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the town of Vail have been working on ways to “Restore the Gore.” The effort has included projects from improving the town’s storm sewer system to educating property owners about ways they can help improve the stream.
One of the main ways to measure water quality is by tracking the populations of macroinvertebrates — small bugs near the bottom of the food chain. Those bugs make it possible for other fish to flourish.
Since the Restore the Gore project launched in 2016, macroinvertebrate populations have been coming back. Depending on how you measure those populations the creek shows macroinvertebrate levels in line with “attainment” of standards, or that there’s still work to do.
Unfortunately, the state uses the more stringent measurement.
David Rees, owner of Timberline Aquatics and self-described “bug nerd” Tuesday told the Vail Town Council about progress recorded in the most recent survey, in 2019.
Rees said the measurement systems are actually “apples and oranges” ways to measure macroinvertebrate life. The measurement that looks better relies on the richness of the “taxa” — the variety — of different macroinvertebrate species. The more stringent method “doesn’t register improvement” the way the older method does.
Councilmember Brian Stockmar asked whether future surveys will continue to use both measurement methods. Rees said the water district, which pays for the surveys, has asked him to use both methods.
The two methods measure “different aspects of (stream) community health,” Rees said, adding that using both methods could be valuable “for another year or two.”
Still, populations are improving, especially in spots with less human activity.
Rees was particulary impressed with gains seen on Red Sandstone Creek.
“I didn’t think I’d see this (much) improvement this quickly,” Rees said.
While the studies provide data about aquatic life, Councilmember Kevin Foley asked the question many residents want to know: “When do we get off the impaired list?”
That’s a hard question to answer. Rees said while some of the most sensitive species are starting to colonize areas, state officials want to see more improvements. That will make getting off the list difficult.
Still, councilmembers were impressed with the presentation.
“It’s working,” Councilmember Jen Mason said of the Restore the Gore effort. Mason noted that the council was “definitely taking a leap of faith” with the effort, which seems to be paying dividends.
Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed education coordinator, agreed.
“The community has really gotten behind this,” Wadden said. While Wadden said he wished the state would return to the earlier measurement system, “but we have to work with the regulatory environment we’re in. Maybe we’re not passing, but we have improving scores.”
• 15: Varieties of mayfly found in a 2019 Gore Creek Survey.
• 18: Varieties of stonefly.
• 108: Identified macroinvertebrate varieties.
• 25,082: Individual bugs found.
Source: Timberline Aquatics