The bugs making a comeback in Gore Creek is a positive sign for Vail stream | VailDaily.com

The bugs making a comeback in Gore Creek is a positive sign for Vail stream

Populations of small bugs, including mayflies, are starting to improve on Gore Creek through Vail. Small bugs are a key indicator of stream health.

VAIL — After years of planning and work, there seems to be some improvement in aquatic life along Gore Creek.

The creek, which to all appearances looks like a pristine mountain stream, has been under mostly human-caused stress for some time, and in 2013 was placed on a state list of "impaired waterways." That designation came largely due to declines in aquatic life, primarily small bugs called "macroinvertabrates."

That decline has reversed, at least a bit, in the past couple of years. It's probably too soon to call the increase in bug numbers a trend, but people familiar with the stream are encouraged.

"It sure looks really positive — we're really excited," Eagle River Watershed Council Director Holly Loff said.

Vail isn't unique in the impaired waterway designation. A number of mountain towns and cities in the state have also been saddled with the tag.

In Vail, town officials, the Watershed Council and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District spent a couple of years working on the "Restore the Gore" plan, which includes a range of tactics, from education to reducing pesticide use near the creek to changes to at least some of the town's stormwater drainage system.

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Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden said the town is spending a lot of time, effort and money on upgrading the storm sewer system.

 

Straight into the creek

In Vail, most of the storm sewers run directly into Gore Creek. And, while the situation is better than it once was, people still dump some stream-unfriendly stuff into those grates.

In a 2017 presentation to the Vail Town Council, Wadden said everything from bags to cement to hot dogs had been dumped into the storm sewer in the previous year.

That's getting better, thanks to educational efforts, Wadden said.

"We've seen less and less egregious dumping," Wadden said. In a couple of instances in which carpet-cleaning companies have dumped waste water into the storm sewers, residents have reported the offenses.

Putting things that are bad for the creek into storm sewers can also include road sand and even soap and dirt from home car washes.

Education is going to be critical to cutting down the amount of stuff put into the creek. But, Wadden said, the town is also working on upgrading the storm sewers in strategic areas. The area around the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange has been done, and Wadden said a 2019 project will focus on the area around the Hotel Talisa. A similar project will tackle runoff around the West Vail I-70 interchange.

But those projects only target some of the most important areas. Wadden said Vail has more than 1,100 inlets and more than 500 "outfalls" that lead into Gore Creek. There's simply no way to quickly upgrade all of them.

Still, there are areas where the town's focus has paid off. And, Wadden said, bug life in some areas has improved since the town has stopped spraying for pine and spruce beetles.

Aquatic entomologist David Rees has been working with the town on its stream-restoration work.

 

This could take time

While there's been improvement, Rees said getting the town off the state list could take some time. Gore Creek is a relatively small stream, Rees said. That means it often doesn't take much of a disturbance to harm a stream, he said.

Loff said the progress on Gore Creek could be good news for the rest of the valley, too. While the Eagle River west of Dowd Junction isn't currently on any impairment list, aquatic life remains a concern.

The Watershed Council, the water and sanitation district and the towns of Avon and Eagle are currently working on ways to improve stream health through those communities.

Loff said the council and the town of Avon are currently working on projects that would ultimately improve stream health there. Loff said nothing's final yet, but there has been talk of creating a "rain garden" at the site where Nottingham Lake drains into the river. Such a garden could include native plants and natural filters.

Loff said there's also been talk with town of Eagle officials about projects in that community, too.

Loff said the goal is the same the length of the valley: "We want to be as protective as possible of this resource."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

 

Want to learn more?

  • The town of Vail will hold a “Lunch & Learn” session about aquatic life on Gore Creek. That session is set for noon on Tuesday.
  • The Vail Town Council will take a look at the information at its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

The meeting will be streamed live, then re-broadcast, on High Five Access Media.