Storm drain study may help clean Gore Creek
What’s the problem?
It’s all about bugs. Gore Creek — along with other mountain streams — are classified as “impaired” waterways because they don’t sustain sufficient populations of insects. Those bugs are essential to maintain healthy populations of other aquatic life, including fish.
While those populations have been affected by various kinds of pollution, the stretch of Gore Creek downstream from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant is still classified as a “Gold Medal” fishery.
VAIL — When tackling a big job, success often depends on good information. Cleaning up Gore Creek is one of those big jobs, and people in charge of that task are still working to find out exactly what they’re facing.
To that end, the town of Vail this year has hired SGM, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering, surveying and consulting company, to do some of the most basic research — locating all of the town’s storm sewers and finding out exactly where they go.
That’s a more complicated job than it sounds. At the moment, town officials know the location of no more than 70 percent of the existing storm drainage system.
Kristen Bertuglia, the town’s environmental sustainability manager, said knowing where all of the town’s storm drains are, and where they go, is an important part of the bigger cleanup effort.
Most of the town’s storm drains flow into vaults, essentially big tanks where sand, oil and other pollutants are separated out before water ends up in the creek.
Bertuglia said knowing where those vaults are, and which parts of the drainage system flow into them — along with good mapping of the system — will help town officials develop a schedule for cleaning the vaults, thus keeping them working as they should.
“As soon as the inventory’s done, we can do a better schedule,” Bertuglia said.
But, given the miles-long length of Vail, that inventory is going to take some time, perhaps all summer.
This is technical work, to be sure. But SGM co-founder and CEO Louis Meyer said he’s impressed by the town’s dedication to the project.
“What they’re doing in Vail is groundbreaking,” Meyer said. “This is the first time I’ve seen a community do a comprehensive inventory of their stormwater (system).”
Why is that important?
Bob Weaver, the district hydrologist for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, wrote in an email that, “A general textbook rule of thumb is that pollution is best controlled at the source. Often, the control measures and best management practices that can be implemented in areas that drain into the storm sewer system are most effective and least costly.”
While Vail may be first, it may not be the last. Bertuglia noted that the same state and federal regulations that landed Gore Creek on a list of impaired streams has affected other mountain resort towns.
“Aspen, Telluride and Winter Park are dealing with this, too,” Bertuglia said.
All those communities thrive, in part, by selling what guests perceive as a pristine mountain environment. In fact, Aspen and Telluride are old mining towns, and Vail sits next to an interstate. Meyer — who did engineering work in Vail in the resort’s early days — said those different circumstances will lead to different solutions.
“Every town does it differently,” Meyer said. “In Vail, you have the town and the ski area draining into the creek.”
Everyone Pitch In
While details of the problem are still being identified, the next big question is already on the horizon — can Vail clean up Gore Creek enough to get the stream off that state list?
That’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of people. At the moment, the Gore Creek project includes the town of Vail, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Eagle River Watershed Council, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Vail Resorts and other public and private agencies. It’s also going to require people who own property along the creek to change their landscaping and other practices.
The goal, Bertuglia said, is to “make the ecological conditions the best they can be — we need to bring the bugs back.”
The solutions even more varied than the people and agencies working on the problems.
Bertuglia is cautious, but optimistic, about the outcome.
“Vail’s very fortunate to have the resources and political support for (the job),” she said. “It’s not easy, and it isn’t inexpensive. But we’re confident we can get there.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.
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