Gore Creek restoration may cost $9 million
By the numbers:
$9.6 million: Estimated cost of Restore the Gore programs over the next five years.
$2 million: Estimated cost of creek improvement projects in 2016.
$750,000: Estimated cost for design and construction of stormwater drainage improvements in 2016.
$175,000: Estimated cost for 2016 to design projects in riparian areas along the creek.
Source: Town of Vail
VAIL — Cleaning up Gore Creek is going to take a lot of time and a substantial amount of money, too.
After years of planning, research and other work, the Vail Town Council this evening is scheduled to approve a plan to start cleaning up the creek. That plan has the ultimate goal of removing the creek from a state list of impaired waterways.
The state list was released in early 2012 in response to new federal water-quality standards. Vail has plenty of company on the list, which includes streams that run near and through a number of mountain towns, including Aspen and Telluride.
In fact, Gore Creek didn’t suddenly become the alpine equivalent of an open sewer — it still contains a stretch with the state’s top designation for trout streams. But decades of various kinds of pollution — from road sand to storm runoff through lawns treated with herbicides and other chemicals — have taken a toll. The result of those decades of human habitation is the fact that aquatic life along the Gore has been affected. That starts with the presence of macroinvertabrates, small insects that provide nourishment for other aquatic life.
Since the creek landed on the list, people who work for the town and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District have worked on plans to repair the damage. The district, in fact, has done the lion’s share of research and studying. But it’s ultimately the town government that has responsibility for rehabilitation efforts.
Immense to-do list
Those efforts will be complicated. After studying the problem, then working on possible solutions, the plan has roughly 220 action items on its to-do list.
That to-do list is so long because the problem is so complicated. It became apparent early on that the stream’s health couldn’t be improved by one, or even 10, efforts.
Town of Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager Kristen Bertuglia said that what’s affecting the creek is called non-point source pollution, meaning it comes from places up and down the watershed. That spread-out pollution will have to be addressed through actions including education and getting residents involved in helping clean the creek through their own actions.
But there are other, more easily-defined problems. Road sand is a problem, of course. So is storm runoff. The first year’s plan alone has budgeted $750,000 for design and improvement work to the town’s storm drain system.
Besides the work, Bertuglia said more town residents need to understand that every drop of water that runs off their property will eventually make its way to the creek.
A lot of residents already understand that.
“I have friends who have stopped mowing their lawns (near the creek),” Vail Town Council member Jenn Bruno said.
But, Bertuglia said, other residents she’s spoken with don’t understand that everything flowing into drainage gates goes toward the creek.
Community involvement key
That’s why there’s a big educational element in the plan, and money budgeted to carry it out. In fact, the town will for two years hire a full-time employee to handle education and public outreach.
Beyond that, there will be money set aside for programs including a landscaping course at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, newspaper ads and information on the town’s website.
All of it is important, Bruno, said.
“We really need to get the community involved,” she said. “We need to get (residents) to understand we’re serious about bringing the Gore back.”
Again, though, that’s going to take time.
Bruno acknowledged that the five years included in the current plan isn’t a lot of time.
“But if we’re committed, and we are, we need to have some strong goals … All we can do is set ourselves up for success.”
Bertuglia said she has modest, but realistic, expectations of what she’d like to see as 2020 approaches.
“I’d like to see a stable, or upward trend in the number of macroinvertabrates,” she said. “That would be progress.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.