Restoring the Gore: A community effort
Gore Creek is facing challenges due to ongoing development in the valley, and its restoration will require collective action on many fronts.
In 2012, the creek was given a Clean Water Act designation of impairment for low aquatic life. Population of aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates in Gore Creek are declining, which is a troubling sign for the ecosystem. One of the challenges to improving water quality in Gore Creek is that there is not one primary pollutant to address. Unlike Minturn, Durango or Leadville, Vail does not have a history of mining that contributes to the problem. What we do have is an enormous variety of small, non-point sources of pollution.
With the help of a team of scientists and engineers, a group of community stakeholders including local governments, Eagle River Watershed Council and Eagle River Water and Sanitation District developed the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement plan. The plan identifies three main causes of degradation in Gore Creek: pollutants from urban runoff, drainage from pavement and other impervious surfaces and a loss of riparian (creek-side) vegetation.
As rain water and snowmelt flow over our rooftops, streets and driveways, they collect pollutants and carry them into the creek. Without a natural buffer of creek-side plants, there is little to filter those pollutants out before they enter the creek. The loss of aquatic life in Gore Creek cannot be attributed to a single pollutant, so it will take a community-wide effort if we hope to turn this problem around.
While traction sand and de-icers such as magnesium chloride are known to stress aquatic insects, the healthy aquatic insect populations in Black Gore Creek indicate that the highway is not solely to blame for the challenges Gore Creek is facing. Black Gore Creek has healthy populations of macroinvertbrates, even though it follows Interstate 70 from Vail Pass to East Vail. The largest drop in aquatic life occurs after the creek enters the more densely developed parts of Vail. This phenomenon is predictable and is visible on several other streams in the region with dense development along their banks, including Red Sandstone Creek, Beaver Creek and the Roaring Fork River, none of which are impacted by an interstate highway.
The town of Vail plans to spend more than $3 million throughout the next three years to stabilize streambanks, restore riparian vegetation and update stormwater filtration systems. The town has already completed streambank restoration projects at Stephens Park and behind the library and the watershed council is wrapping up a similar project near the Lionshead Skier Bridge.
Stormwater projects are scheduled for the East Vail interchange and the town’s public works facility. Since the snow has begun to melt, town crews have begun cleaning up cinders daily to prevent that material from entering the creek, and made upgrades to the town’s snow dump to better filter plowed snow. Town staff members are also working hard to reach out to the community to make sure everyone knows what they can do to help.
The next monthly Lunch with the Locals symposium on Wednesday will discuss stormwater pollution and its impacts on Gore Creek. On Thursday, Vail will host its second annual free Sustainable Landscape Workshop to provide landscapers and pesticide applicators the tools they need to do their part to help Restore the Gore.
Private citizens and homeowners can look to the “Resources” page on LoveVail.org/gorecreek for information about proper application of landscaping chemicals and recommendations about native plant species to incorporate into their yards. The town will also give away 100 native trees and shrubs to residents as part of its annual Trees for Vail event in June. Vail residents can contact the town’s watershed education coordinator for free on-site consultations about creek-friendly landscaping on and protecting their streambanks from erosion.
The challenges of conserving a community resource such as Gore Creek involve balancing many, often-conflicting interests. Motorists on I-70 and town streets need traction sand and de-icers to be able to travel safely to and from Vail. The Colorado Department of Transportation and the town of Vail continually assess where and when the application of traction sand is necessary, keeping in mind that it has an impact on our waterways and aquatic life. Many residents want to maintain green grass and ornamental landscaping, which has historically involved applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides to lawns and trees. Wise and judicious use of chemicals and incorporation of more native plants into our landscaping help keep harmful chemicals out of the creek and filter pollutants from runoff.
If Gore Creek is to maintain the Gold Medal fishery status it has long been known for, then it will require a dedicated, community-wide effort. Help the town of Vail continue to work toward a healthy creek by learning what changes can be made to contribute to the effort.
Pete Wadden is the town of Vail Watershed education coordinator. For more information about Vail’s efforts to restore Gore Creek, upcoming events or to schedule a landscaping consultation he can be reached at email@example.com or 970-479-2144. For similar resources in the Eagle River watershed, http://www.ERWC.org or contact the Eagle River Watershed Council at 970-827-5406.
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