Vail installs Gutter Bins to stop 27.8 tons of pollution from reaching Gore Creek each year

Supported by a Colorado Department of Health and Environment Grant, Frog Creek Partners installed 278 new Gutter Bins throughout town

From May 23 to 26, Frog Creek Ventures installed just under 300 gutter bins in Vail. The town funded the installation with help from a CDHPE grant.
Brian Deurloo/Courtesy Photo

Last week, a crew from Frog Creek Partners traveled throughout Vail to install Gutter Bin stormwater filtration systems across a quarter of the town’s stormwater drains to capture debris and pollution before it reaches Gore Creek.

Each year, these 278 Gutter Bins will stop approximately 27.8 tons (or 55,600 pounds) of pollution from reaching Gore Creek, according to Brian Deurloo, Frog Creek’s president and founder.

Vail has a total of 1,100 stormwater inlets — the open grates in the street — that flow to about 550 outfalls in Gore Creek. These open grates are different from sanitary sewers, which take water from items like sinks, toilets and washing machines through a wastewater treatment process before being discharged to the creek.

What this equates to is “a lot of opportunities for pollution to be introduced into Gore Creek through our stormwater system,” said Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed health specialist.

This pollution comes both directly from people dumping things into the stormwater drains or indirectly from the pollutants that run off the roadways, Wadden said. The latter include road salt, sand, cinders, dust from brakes, leaked oil from cars, and more.

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“Stormwater pollution has an impact on Gore Creek and contributes to the impairment of that creek and harms aquatic life,” Wadden said.

Brian Deurloo, the founder of Frog Creek Partners, stands with Pete Wadden, Vail’s watershed health specialist, holding one of the company’s Gutter Bins before installation.
Brian Deurloo/Courtesy Photo

Throughout the years, the town has been looking for solutions to reduce and capture the amount of pollution running into the creek. In some places — including parking structures and the highway interchanges and roundabouts — the town has installed sand oil filters. These, Wadden described as “a vortex that uses the force of the water to spin out sediment and oil and things like that.”

While effective, they are extremely expensive to install, Wadden said. So, for many years, the town has been seeking cheaper alternatives to capture pollutants. In 2018, Vail discovered Frog Creek Partners’ Gutter Bins and installed several at the public works site and at Stephens Park.

“We’ve been really happy with how they’ve performed. They’re capturing something like 40 to 80 pounds of sediment and trash every six months when we go out and empty them,” Wadden said.

Since 2018, Wadden said Frog Creek and Deurloo have also continued to innovate the product and improve it.

“So, we’re going kind of big on them now,” Wadden said.

An average gutter bin captures 200 pounds of pollution a year and prevents it from going into the local watershed.
Brian Deurloo/Courtesy Photo

This expansion — from five current Gutter Bins to around 278 — was supported by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Management grant program.  Nonpoint source pollution is identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “the leading remaining cause of water quality problems.” The state program was created to reduce these pollution loads.

The Gutter Bins will be installed in the Vail and Lionshead Village drains as well as along the frontage road between Forest Road and Ford Park. This, Wadden said, is seen as a “limited deployment in the heart of the village where we think they’ll be most effective.”

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These Gutter Bins are a “filter for a catch basin or stormwater inlet,” Deurloo said, equating it to a coffee filter for storm drains. They catch pollutants such as cigarette butts, tire threads, microplastics, sediment from roads (which contains heavy metals and hydrocarbons like oil and grease) — anything that is the size of a grain of sand or larger — he added.

An average bin captures 200 pounds of pollution a year, Deurloo said.  

In the future, the town may look to expand the Gutter Bins depending on how they perform on the larger scale, Wadden said.

In addition to installing large-scale systems like in Vail, Frog Creek Partners also has a program for people around the country to donate Gutter Bins to cities, towns or around businesses.

“We’re on a mission to change the world one storm drain at a time. This isn’t just about Vail’s watershed, this is about all watersheds,” Deurloo said.

Pollutants in Gore Creek

Melanie Smith from the Eagle River Watershed Council helps with the installation of Gutter Bins in Vail.
Brian Deurloo/Courtesy Photo

Currently, to track pollutants in Gore Creek, the town has automated stormwater sampling devices that are triggered when there’s a certain amount of flow (mostly due to rain events or snowmelt). The samples collected are then sent to labs to be analyzed for metals, fuel, E. Coli, sediment and more.

“We can use that to compare how clean the water is above a treatment device upstream of it, to how clean it is downstream where it’s discharging to the creek,” Wadden said.

Overall, with the development of Vail from 1960 to 2020 there has been an overall increase in stormwater pollution, Wadden said. However, with the treatment devices that have been installed, between 2010 and 2023, Vail has seen a “reduction in pollution in Gore Creek and small improvements in the aquatic invertebrate numbers, which is really our goal,” he added.

There are varying impacts that pollutants have on the riparian ecosystem in Gore Creek.

“Some metals like zinc and copper are very harmful to animals with gills. Zinc has a way of gumming up their gills and preventing them from being able to extract oxygen from the water,” Wadden said.

The watershed impacts are still being understood for other things, such as road salt and magnesium chloride.

“There have been some new studies coming out of Colorado State University that (mag chloride) may not be outright killing the bugs, it is impacting their behavior, their feeding patterns, and their ability to reproduce,” Wadden said. “So, a lot of the stuff that comes off of our roadways and runs into storm drains does have a pretty big impact both on aquatic insects and on fish.”

While the new Gutter Bins installed will go a long way in capturing some of these pollutants, Vail residents and guests still have a part to play, Wadden noted.

“While these are going in to try to protect the stream from pollution, that doesn’t mean that people should treat storm drains as trash bins. Not all of our storm drains are going to have these, and even the ones that do will be overwhelmed if people start throwing candy wrappers and cigarette butts and things in there,” Wadden said.

During Frog Creek’s installation of the Gutter Bins, Deurloo reported finding cigarette butts, plastic and medical waste (including masks and gloves) in Vail’s drains. (Deurloo pointed to a study by Dr. Elli Slaughter at San Diego State University, which demonstrated that a single cigarette butt could kill five fish.)

Deurloo’s advice was simple: “Keep your area clean. Pick up trash even if it isn’t yours. It’s going into the storm drain eventually or the river.”

Wadden’s was even simpler: “Only rain down the drain.”

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