Gore Creek cleanup plan nears approval | VailDaily.com

Gore Creek cleanup plan nears approval

VAIL — Gore Creek has had a lot of human interference in the past 50 years. Improving the stream's water quality is going to take some time.

State officials in 2012 placed Gore Creek — as well as a number of other mountain-town streams — on a list of ecologically impaired waterways in Colorado, but that doesn't mean the creek is the equivalent of a Rust Belt river that can catch fire. Still, humans have affected Gore Creek's aquatic life — particularly bugs that are the food supply for fish.

To help repair that damage, town officials have been working for some time on a plan called Restore the Gore. The plan's design so far has included working with consultants, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and residents. The plan has also been the subject of six hearings at the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. The Vail Town Council is the final step to putting the plan — and its 217 recommended actions — into place. Council members Tuesday took a close look at the plan, with an eye toward final approval at the board's March 15 evening meeting.

MINIMIZING POLLUTANTS

The plan in its current form has a good bit of regulation in it — including what people can spray on weeds they're legally obligated to control.

But a majority of the recommendations fall into two categories: specific projects and management practices.

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The identified projects cover nearly the length of Gore Creek, from the Interstate 70 runaway truck ramp nearest to town to the parking lots at the town's two supermarkets. The projects run the gamut from restoring creekside vegetation to creating an artificial wetland area — a natural pollutant filter — to catch cinders falling off of I-70 to working to treat runoff from supermarket parking lots.

Gary Brooks, an engineer who is part of the town's consultant team, said the idea behind all of the projects is to either dilute or interrupt pollutants that would otherwise make their way into the stream.

EDUCATION IS KEY

Education and management practices are similarly broad. Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia said education is a significant part of virtually every element of the plan, from helping homeowners to teaching the landscaping companies those property owners hire.

Those educational efforts seem to be well-received so far. Bertuglia said an informational meeting for landscaping companies in 2015 drew between 80 and 100 people, most of whom were company owners.

Landscape companies that take a sustainable landscaping class — organized in cooperation with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and scheduled for the spring of this year — can earn a creek-friendly certification from the town. Those companies can use that certification in their own efforts to line up clients for the coming season.

And residents in general seem interested in learning more, Bertuglia said.

"I've been inspired by how the community has gotten behind this effort," Bertuglia said.

VAIL RESORTS INVOLVEMENT

Responding to a question about Vail Resorts' involvement in the plan, Bertuglia said the environmental team from the company has been involved in drafting the plan, and this winter has moved one of its major snow piles on the valley floor so it will have less impact on the creek when the pile melts.

PRICE TAG FOR PROJECTS

All of these efforts will cost money, of course. Just one project — the stormwater treatment project at the I-70 truck ramp — has an estimated price tag of more than $150,000. Better treatment of runoff from the supermarket parking lots will certain cost more. Another project, a 2017 redo of Slifer Plaza, carries an estimated price of more than $1.3 million, much of which will be spent on replacing an aging storm sewer that runs from north of the Vail Village parking structure into the creek.

The best use of taxpayer money will be a key element of the plan.

"We have a huge list; we need to prioritize what's on it," Bertuglia said.

What are they doing?

The town of Vail’s proposed Restore the Gore campaign aims to improve water quality in Gore Creek. The plan has 217 “recommended actions.” Here’s how they break down:

• Site specific projects: 93.

• Best management practices: 60.

• Rules and regulations: 35.

• Education and outreach: 18.

• Data collection: 11.