Vail’s Gore Creek improving macroinvertebrate numbers |

Vail’s Gore Creek improving macroinvertebrate numbers

Bug populations are on a slight, steady upswing at several collection sites

Populations of macroinvertebrates in Gore Creek declined in 2018 after slowly, but steadily increasing. Those organisms are essential for healthy aquatic life in the stream.
What’s in the creek? Here’s a partial list of the macroinvertabrate populations measured along Gore Creek and the Eagle River in an 2018 survey:
  • 16 Mayfly taxa (populations).
  • 18 Stonefly taxa.
  • 24 Caddisfly taxa.
  • In all 38,264 individual macroinvertabrates were collected and identified.

VAIL — Gore Creek since 2013 has been listed on the state’s list of “impaired waterways.” Several years of work are paying off, but getting off the list has become more difficult.

Biologist David Rees of Timberline Aquatics on Jan. 21 provided the Vail Town Council with an update on the creek’s population of “macroinvertebrates,” which are small bugs that live near the bottom of the food chain. Thriving aquatic life in a stream depends on healthy macroinvertebrate populations.

The stream’s small bug population had declined over the years due to a number of factors including pesticide and herbicide use near the stream and runoff from parking lots and driveways that isn’t filtered through the ground before flowing into the stream.

Restoring macroinvertebrate life has been one of the main goals of the “Restore the Gore” campaign being conducted by the town of Vail, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Eagle River Watershed Council. That program has worked for several years on improving stream health.

The good news is that macroinvertaebrate populations in Gore Creek are on a slight, steady upswing at several collection sites.

In general, those bug populations tend to decline as the creek flows through town.

Short of the goal

While the bug populations would have hit “attainment” levels for populations in many areas under the old measurement system, the new system keeps much of the creek in the “impaired” category.

Rees explained that the new measurement system is similar to the old one, but has more, and somewhat different, areas of measurement.

Rees told council members that while the new system has some valuable areas of measurement, it may be “too tough” in terms of determining whether a stream’s water quality is acceptable.

Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said he was at first disturbed by the findings of the 2018 bug counts. That changed after he was walked through the results.

Rees told council members that “other communities are equally unhappy” with the new measurement system.

“I was also pretty devastated” by the new findings, Vail Water Quality Education Specialist Pete Wadden told the council. “We are seeing improvements. The problem that we have is that the state moved the goalposts.”

While there’s been progress over the past several years, there’s more to be done.

Wadden said the town has almost eliminated pesticide use on town property. But, he added, there are several private property owners who could help the restoration efforts, particularly those who are encroaching on town property near the streambanks.

Tougher measures needed?

Wadden told council members that 86 people were on the first list of those who are encroaching on town property. That list has been narrowed to 14 people. Wadden said the town will start issuing fines to those people later this year.

Wadden added that more restoration work — particularly for private property owners — may require a town ordinance with enforcement powers. Work needs to be done on hundreds of properties covering miles of stream frontage, he said.

Wadden said Boulder’s regulation is one of the best he’s seen. That ordinance isn’t an outright ban on activity in streamside areas. But, he said, there are permissions required for building in certain zones.

“There would be a lot to discuss — what activities we’d permit, and what permits (property owners) would need,” Wadden said.

Council members were generally in favor of drafting an ordinance that applies to private property.

“What we’re doing isn’t really moving the bar,” Councilwoman Jenn Bruno said. “We need to be a little more dramatic.”

Councilman Travis Coggin agreed, saying, “If there (are) 100 instances where we have to go in (to private property)… we need to be prepared to go in.”

Wadden said that next step is probably essential to getting Gore Creek removed from the impaired waterways list, no matter what measurements are being used.

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

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