Some Gore Creek recovery efforts will start in spring
What are the problems?
According to a water quality improvement plan, there are three key factors affecting the health of Gore Creek:
• Riparian buffer zone and habitat degradation
• Affects of impervious cover (such as pavement) and urban runoff.
• Pollutants associated with land use and urban runoff.
The entire plan can be seen at bit.ly/vailwaterplan.
VAIL — Gore Creek looks like a pristine mountain stream — and it’s actually in pretty good condition — but the creek’s ability to maintain aquatic life has been affected by years of building and other human activity.
That activity has affected insect and fish populations along much of the creek — from Black Gore Lakes to Dowd Junction. The damage is significant enough that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2012 put the stream on its list of “impaired” waterways in the state.
Vail isn’t alone. Kristen Bertuglia, the town of Vail’s environmental sustainability coordinator, Tuesday told the Vail Town Council that streams running through mountain resorts including Aspen, Telluride and Steamboat Springs also have impaired aquatic life.
Landing on the state list prompted Vail and other local agencies to start work on a plan to improve aquatic life in the creek. That plan is going to take some time. It’s also going to take a lot of cooperation with private property owners since only about 40 percent of the stream tract through Vail is owned by the town.
The first noticeable parts of the plan may begin this year, with creekside restoration efforts on town-owned property.
At Tuesday’s meeting, hydrologist Seth Mason, of Lotic Hydrological, told the council about work done so far. That work to date has largely involved data gathering and mapping, as well as using federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for stream restoration.
Mason said some of those guidelines won’t work in Vail, given that the distances recommended for stream setbacks and the like will conflict with existing structures.
Putting all the federal guidelines into practice would require taking out buildings, Mason said.
No one is suggesting that happen.
A LOT TO BE DONE
Instead, Mason recommended that the town make a priority list of the most important parcels to restore — that includes a combination of grading, planting new, native vegetation along streambanks and working on the town’s storm drainage systems.
There’s a lot of restoration work to be done. Mason said there are a total of 161 projects throughout town. That list will be prioritized, with the list taking into account factors including ownership and accessibility.
The work will also be expensive. According to a report provided for the meeting, cost estimates on projects identified so far run between $5 million and $7 million.
Mason said that since the stream is affected first in East Vail, the priority list will give a lot of consideration first to upstream areas.
Work on the first of those projects could start as soon as the snow melts. Bertuglia said the town has already sent out request for proposals to companies that do restoration work to start with a storm sewer and drainage assessment.
The entire plan could be adopted by mid-year. That plan is also expected to include new regulations that could include more strict requirements about land use near the creek.
EDUCATION IS KEY
Since about 60 percent of all Vail’s stream frontage is in private hands, education is going to play a big role in restoring the creek.
That effort has already begun. Town officials in the summer of 2014 held a meeting with local landscaping companies to talk about topics including pesticide use and mowing.
That education effort will continue this year, of course. Vermilion, a Boulder-based strategic marketing company, will present a town staff with a proposal for an education plan at a March 20 meeting. The public will also hear more about plans for the creek at the March 31 state of the town meeting.
Mayor Andy Daly suggested that the state of the town meeting might be a good opportunity to talk about putting together an advisory committee for the projects.
While restoring the creek is going to take years and will be expensive, council members said the work has to be done — and as soon as possible.
“We need to fast-track this,” council member Dave Chapin said. “But I’m glad to see some progress.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.
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