Vail’s Gore Creek will see new regulations |

Vail’s Gore Creek will see new regulations

Effort is part of getting creek off ‘impaired’ list

Vail officials are close to voting on new regulations to help improve stream quality on Gore Creek.
Daily archive photo

Gore Creek through Vail looks like a pristine mountain stream. The state of Colorado disagrees.

The creek in 2012 landed on a state list of “impaired” waterways, due largely to steep declines in macroinvertabrate populations. Those small bugs are near the bottom of the food chain, and are crucial for other aquatic life in the creek.

The town is fortunate in that it owns about 40% of the stream bank through town. But the rest of the town’s stream frontage is in private hands.

The town in 2016 adopted a strategic plan for the creek, and officials for some time now have been working on changing the town code to formalize new regulations.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s one thing to declare a 10-foot “no mow” zone from the stream bank. But setting setbacks from the stream is more complicated. The main proposed change is establishing a 25-foot setback from what’s called the “two-year flood line” of the stream. Current town regulations establish a 30-foot setback from the center of the stream.

Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden explained the proposed new definition to the Vail Town Council at that group’s April 5 meeting.

The two-year flood line runs along the stream bank. Wadden told council members that the center line of a stream can change frequently, the two year flood line is more stable and has become a standard over the past several years.

Wadden noted that measuring a setback from the center of a stream can have widely different effects on property owners, given the width of a stream and other factors. A 50-foot setback from a stream’s center doesn’t mean much if a stream is 100 feet wide.

Another potential problem is the number of existing structures that don’t conform with current regulations. Many, if not most, of those structures predate existing rules.

Town research shows there are 102 current properties that don’t conform to existing regulations. Under the proposed new rules, that number would rise to 128.

People who own those properties don’t have to immediately come into compliance. Town planner Greg Roy said many of those structures could be rebuilt as is due to floods or other acts of nature.

Mayor Kim Langmaid asked about chemical spraying along stream banks. Those sprays could be a “direct kill” on macroinvertebrates, Langmaid said.

Wadden said state law currently prohibits local governments from regulating pesticides. But, he said, some chemical labels prohibit use near waterways.

Wadden noted that Vail has achieved “urban” density along the creek in less than 50 years.

“If Vail wants a healthy creek, the community needs to give it some space,” Wadden said.

The Vail Town Council will probably see a first reading of a new stream regulation ordinance at its April 19 meeting.

By the numbers

60%: Privately owned portion of Gore Creek streambank through the town of Vail.

10 feet: Proposed “no-mow” zone from the edge of the creek.

18,000: Trees and shrubs planted along the Gore Creek streambank since 2016.

$1 million: Average Vail spending since 2016 on stream quality improvements.

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