Sand crops up in another stream
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Between Loveland Pass and Keystone, there are numerous places along U.S. Highway 6 where traction sand has covered broad swaths of national forest, ultimately ending up in the north fork of the Snake River.
That stretch is one of the cleanest Snake River tributaries, with no history of being damaged by mining activity.
“Fine sand completely smothers the stream,” said Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “And that’s where the bugs live. You’re basically knocking the bottom out of the food chain.”
The issue of highway sand pollution in streams is well known, thanks to recent efforts to clean up Black Gore Creek at Vail Pass, as well as Straight Creek, running below I-70 between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Silverthorne.
Neubecker has been involved with the Black Gore Creek cleanup. At the same time, the sand “cements” the river bottom, also covering up the gravel spawning beds where fish lay their eggs, he said.
Farther up the highway, between Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and 11,990-foot Loveland Pass, many areas of alpine willow wetlands have been similarly affected by the highway sand.
As a hazardous materials route, lots of sand is dumped on Loveland Pass by the Colorado Department of Transportation during the winter months, but to date, very little has been done in the way of trying to capture the sand before it reaches the stream.
The north fork has brook trout, primarily in a series of beaver ponds below Arapahoe Basin. Those fish were considered when the ski area won U.S. Forest Service permission to divert stream water for snowmaking. In order to protect aquatic habitat, the ski area agreed to limit its diversions from the stream.
Endangered boreal toads also depend on the stream, though they may not be as susceptible to inundation by sand.
Neubecker said he hopes the department of transportation will address the sand when it does safety upgrades on Loveland Pass this summer. The agency will install new guard rails and widen the shoulders of the highway between Keystone and the Loveland ski area.
At Berthoud Pass, for example, the agency puts down about 9,000 tons of sand and recaptures about half of that.
Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said one retaining pond for sand, west of Arapahoe Basin, is planned as part of the project, but other than that, the agency won’t deal with sand pollution this summer.
“We’re doing what we can with limited funds to address safety issues,” Wilson said.