Gore Creek cleanup plan nears approval — The Vail Daily

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

State officials in 2012 placed Gore Creek — as well as a number of other mountain-town streams — on a list of ecologically impaired waterways in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean the creek is the equivalent of a Rust Belt river that can catch fire. Still, humans have affected Gore Creek’s aquatic life — particularly bugs that are the food supply for fish.

To help repair that damage, town officials have been working for some time on a plan called Restore the Gore. The plan’s design so far has included working with consultants, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and residents. The plan has also been the subject of six hearings at the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. The Vail Town Council is the final step to putting the plan — and its 217 recommended actions — into place. Council members Tuesday took a close look at the plan, with an eye toward final approval at the board’s March 15 evening meeting.

MINIMIZING POLLUTANTS

The plan in its current form has a good bit of regulation in it — including what people can spray on weeds they’re legally obligated to control.

But a majority of the recommendations fall into two categories: specific projects and management practices.

The identified projects cover nearly the length of Gore Creek, from the Interstate 70 runaway truck ramp nearest to town to the parking lots at the town’s two supermarkets. The projects run the gamut from restoring creekside vegetation to creating an artificial wetland area — a natural pollutant filter — to catch cinders falling off of I-70 to working to treat runoff from supermarket parking lots.

Gary Brooks, an engineer who is part of the town’s consultant team, said the idea behind all of the projects is to either dilute or interrupt pollutants that would otherwise make their way into the stream.

EDUCATION IS KEY

Education and management practices are similarly broad. Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia said education is a significant part of virtually every element of the plan, from helping homeowners to teaching the landscaping companies those property owners hire.

Those educational efforts seem to be well-received so far. Bertuglia said an informational meeting for landscaping companies in 2015 drew between 80 and 100 people, most of whom were company owners.

Landscape companies that take a sustainable landscaping class — organized in cooperation with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and scheduled for the spring of this year — can earn a creek-friendly certification from the town. Those companies can use that certification in their own efforts to line up clients for the coming season.

And residents in general seem interested in learning more, Bertuglia said.

“I’ve been inspired by how the community has gotten behind this effort,” Bertuglia said.

VAIL RESORTS INVOLVEMENT

Responding to a question about Vail Resorts’ involvement in the plan, Bertuglia said the environmental team from the company has been involved in drafting the plan, and this winter has moved one of its major snow piles on the valley floor so it will have less impact on the creek when the pile melts.

PRICE TAG FOR PROJECTS

All of these efforts will cost money, of course. Just one project — the stormwater treatment project at the I-70 truck ramp — has an estimated price tag of more than $150,000. Better treatment of runoff from the supermarket parking lots will certain cost more. Another project, a 2017 redo of Slifer Plaza, carries an estimated price of more than $1.3 million, much of which will be spent on replacing an aging storm sewer that runs from north of the Vail Village parking structure into the creek.

The best use of taxpayer money will be a key element of the plan.

Will Gore Creek restoration start this year? — The Vail Daily

Gore Creek
Gore Creek

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

Based on new standards of stream health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put Gore Creek on a list of impaired streams in the state in 2012. The local creek isn’t alone. A number of streams through and near mountain towns are on the list.

Still, “impaired stream” and “mountain playground” don’t sound good together. That’s why local officials have been working on plans to improve aquatic life in the creek for the past several years

That work took a lot of time because a host of causes affect the stream’s health, ranging from road sand and de-icer to runoff from parking lots to what landowners use to control weeds on their creekside properties. All of those things affect aquatic life in the creek — specifically, the small bugs that allow other aquatic life to flourish.

This week, the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission approved a town action plan to help with the creek cleanup. The Vail Town Council is expected to get its first look at the approved plan in February and will likely approve the plan soon after…

ENHANCEMENT PROJECTS

The plan has identified 42 streamside enhancement projects between the farthest reaches of East Vail and the confluence of Gore Creek with the Eagle River. Brooke Ranney, the projects and events coordinator with the Eagle River Watershed Council, said each of those areas is an acre or less in size. Those sites have also been prioritized. Most of the improvements focus on storm drainage. But some will have a direct effect on how people can reach the stream.

Ranney said one project is just west of the skier bridge in Lionshead Village. That area sees a lot of foot traffic, which has caused erosion along the banks. That project will stabilize the stream bank. But, Ranney said, the trick with that and other projects is stabilizing areas while still allowing access to the stream.

Arriving at the point of having a restoration plan in place has taken years of research and planning.

While Gore Creek landed on the state’s list in 2012, the new water-quality standards were understood several years before. Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said the district started gathering data about the stream in 2008 as part of an effort to understand how the standards would affect the wastewater treatment plant just west of Lionshead in Vail.

RESEARCH GUIDES RESULTS

While the treatment plant can clean up water downstream, Johnson said there’s nothing the district can do about pollution upstream. But the research the district has done over the past several years will guide the town’s plan.

“We’re finally moving from field work, research and analysis to action,” Johnson said.

That field work has involved a lot time beating the bushes — literally. In 2015, the town hired SGM, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering company, to do a comprehensive inventory of the town’s storm sewer system.

“They did an excellent job,” Bertuglia said. “They literally got into the weeds and tracked where the (storm sewer) basins go.”

While the watershed council is a nonprofit group with a limited budget, Ranney said that group can help coordinate educational projects and, in some cases, round up volunteers for restoration projects. The council used a lot of volunteer help for a stream restoration project in Edwards a few years ago.

Community involvement is important in cleanup and restoration efforts, and Bertuglia said town residents seem ready.

“It’s encouraging how engaged the community has been,” she said.

Johnson said that’s going to be important in the future — and not just for people who live along the creek.

“We can all make personal choices,” Johnson said. “Anything that runs off your driveway or your lawn eventually makes it down to the creek.”

@westgov: Register for webinar, learn how @VailCOwater navigated extreme #drought

Vail Whitewater Series Kicks Off May 12 — Vail Recreation District

gorecreekkayakvailviavailrecreation
Here’s the release from the Vail Recreation District:

The Vail Recreation District will kick off the Vail Whitewater Series Tuesday, May 12 at the Vail Whitewater Park in Vail Village. This is the first race in the five race series, which is presented by the Town of Vail and Howard Head Sports Medicine, with course design by Alpine Quest Sports.

Races will begin at 5:30 p.m. and offer competition featuring kayaking (under 9’6″), two-person raft and stand up paddleboard (SUP). Races will start at the Covered Bridge and finish at the International Bridge. The course for each week will be determined the day prior based on river flows. Each week, the two round format will consist of an individual time trial with results determining the seeding for the second round, head-to-head race. Check vailrec.com or Vail Whitewater Race Series Facebook page at facebook.com/vailrace for updates. Lakota Guides will be onsite with rafts available for R2 Teams to use. Spectators will enjoy viewing from the banks of Gore Creek.

Participants can register for all five races for $40, preregister for $10 for individual races or register on race-day for $15. Preregistration ends at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11. Onsite day-of registration will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Whitewater Park.

The Covered Bridge will be under construction during Tuesday’s race and competitors will need to access the start on the south side of Gore Creek by crossing the river on Vail Valley Drive or the International Bridge. Participants and spectators are asked to park in the Vail Village parking structure during the event. Short-term gear drop off/pick up will be available at Checkpoint Charlie before and after the race.

An after party will be hosted at Vendetta’s in Vail Village where cash and product prizes will be awarded to the top three winners of all three categories. All participants and spectators over age 21 will receive a free beer courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company, the race series’ new beverage partner.

Four additional races are scheduled throughout the spring and will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, May 26, June 2 and June 9 at the Vail Whitewater Park.

Also new for 2015, the Vail Recreation District and Alpine Quest Sports will raffle off a Hala Atacha SUP board (retail value $1,350). The board will be raffled off on June 9 at the Pazzo’s Vail after party for the final race of series. Everyone who competes in a Vail Whitewater Series event will be automatically entered, once for each race they participate in (up to five entries). Spectators can enter to win by taking a photo with the board at any of the five races, then posting it on Facebook and tagging Vail Whitewater Series and Alpine Quest Sports. Additionally, between May 12 – June 8, anyone can go into Alpine Quest in Edwards to take a photo with the board and posting and tagging will get them an entry. Must be present at Pazzo’s Vail on June 9 to win.

The Whitewater Series is brought to you by the Town of Vail, Alpine Quest, Howard Head Sports Medicine, New Belgium, Vail Recreation District, Altitude Billards & Club, Stolquist, Hala SUP, Red Lion, Vendetta’s, Pazzo’s, Optic Nerve, Astral and Kokatat.

To register or for more information, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or visit http://www.vailrec.com/sports/whitewater-race-series.

More whitewater coverage here.

The Town of Vail is embarking on a stormwater study to improve stream health in Gore Creek

Gore Creek
Gore Creek

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

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.

VAIL’S VAULTS

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.

More stormwater coverage here.

Capturing the Eagle River’s last drops for those dry, hot summers ahead — The Mountain Town News

eagleparkreservoirviamountaintownnews

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir and other storage options studied

The summer of 2002 was so hot and dry in Vail that when a rainstorm finally arrived in August, people violated the idiom about common sense and stood and then danced outside in the pouring rain.

In the offices of the local water provider, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Linn Brooks remembers worries that Gore Creek—the primary source of Vail’s water, via wells that draw from the creek’s alluvial aquifer—might disappear altogether. Droughts from the 20th century had never been as severe.

September rains in 2002 eased immediate concerns. But 13 years later, water district still seeks to steel itself from a return of drought that severe—or worse.

Twice, upstream reservoirs have been expanded modestly and wells were drilled downstream at Edwards at a cost of several million dollars.

Now comes discussion of a much more ambitious expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir, one of several ideas for increased storage of the final waters of the upper Eagle Valley.

Eagle Park Reservoir is along the East Fork of the Eagle River, near Frémont Pass, about 20 miles south of Vail. It was built in the 1960s to hold tailings from the nearby Climax molybdenum mine. Then, in the mid-1990s, it was cleaned up and converted to water storage beginning in 1998.

Expanded minimally in 2009 at a cost of $250,000, it can now store a maximum of 3,300 acre-feet of water. The idea now being reviewed would expand storage to between 6,000 and 9,000 acre-feet.

Brooks, now the general manager for the water and sanitation district, says the project would address future population growth in Vail and the Eagle Valley, provide water to meet minimum streamflow water rights and, somewhat more nebulously, deliver water to mitigate water quality problems and benefit the river ecosystem.

But the essential driver, says Brooks, is the potential for intensified drought. Before the drought of 2002, the worst year on record was 1977 and local water planners tried to plan for three years of consecutive drought of that magnitude.

Now, they’re trying to plan for three consecutive years as bad as 2002.

“I would say we are still reacting to 2002,” says Brooks.

But stacked up behind the fresh and concrete evidence of 2002 is the worrisome potential for even more intensified drought such as occurred around 800 to 1300 AD.

Tree rings in the Colorado River Basin—including some from trees near Eagle—provide evidence of those droughts. A recent study calculated that such droughts have a 66 percent chance of occurring in the 21st century.

naturalflowbouldercreeknearorodelltreeringsviamountaintownnews

On top of this comes the effect of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions. Climate models have drawn no clear conclusions about effects of precipitation in places like Vail, they are clear in warning of hotter, longer summers and, when it occurs, more intense drought.

Of course, river flows have always been variable on the Eagle and other river basins of the Southwest. Since the record-shattering drought of 2002, points out Brooks, Vail has also had a once-in-100 years runoff. Precipitation in the high Rockies, she points out, has “extreme variability.”

Memorandum of understanding

The Eagle River has three significant reservoirs at its headwaters:

• Black Lakes, located at Vail Pass, at the headwaters of Black Gore Creek, which can hold 750 acre-feet.

• Homestake Reservoir holds 14,000 acre-feet, but only 1,000 acre-feet can be used for Western Slope purposes. The rest is diverted for use by Aurora and Colorado Springs.

• Eagle Park Reservoir is the newest. In the early 1990s, water attorney Glenn Porzak, of Porzak, Browning Bushong, initiated discussions with Climax about converting assets of the mine to accommodate the growing needs of his clients in Vail for water storage. He represents Vail Resorts, and Eagle River Water and Sanitation District as well as the parallel Upper Eagle River Water Authority.

The consortium was expanded to include Eagle County, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, and owner of the mine, which is now FreeportMorgan. Climax paid to clean up the reservoir at a cost of $12 million.

But Aurora and Colorado Springs also own substantial water rights in the basin. In the 1960s, they joined to build Homestake Reservoir. In the 1980s, they proposed to further expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The project was called Homestake II.

Eagle County thwarted that ambition. Its 1987 denial survived court challenges and statehouse attempts to yank the legal rug from under the local government.

The River District convened discussions that recognized that the water rights of the Front Range cities must be recognized—but, in developing the water, the Western Slope must benefit, too. The Eagle River memorandum of understanding inked in 1998 identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River Basin to be developed in thirds: for Aurora, Colorado Springs, and the Western Slope.

Even if Eagle Park gets expanded, it’s unlikely to be the only project, says John Currier, chief engineer for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“It’s very likely that you can’t develop the water in the Eagle River MOU in one single project. I think it’s more accurate to say it’s one project with multiple components.”

gorecreekvailgolfcourse2002mountaintownnews

Another long-discussed idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Still another is a holding facility, called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from Camp Hale. From this impound water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir. Yet a third idea is a small reservoir on Red Sandstone Creek, north of Vail.

Benefits of Eagle Park, says Currier, are that it already exists, it’s on private property, eliminating need for the high level of environmental review that other projects on public land would require, and the property has already been disturbed.

The latter is a persuasive argument to Ken Neubecker, a representative of American Rivers, a conservation group.

“Without looking at the details, I would think favorably of it. Eagle Park Reservoir was an old tailings pile to begin with. It wasn’t like ripping up an undammed valley like Blodgett Reservoir would. Adding onto it would be the best use of facilities we already have.”

Expanding Eagle Park, however, will likely be expensive. No cost estimates have been delivered, but Brooks says it’s something “we cannot do on our own. We would have to have partners in a project like that.”

Porzak says Aurora could benefit by storing water from the Columbine Ditch, a water diversion across Tennessee Pass, in the reservoir.

Energy use also is problematic. The reservoir has almost no upstream. Water would have to be pumped 150 vertical feet from the East Fork of the Eagle River, says Porzak.

A small reservoir at Whitney Creek would also require pumping water, says Currier. But for diversions to the Front Range, going farther down the Eagle River is even more challenging.

Scenario planning

Exactly what would best benefit the Vail Valley is still unclear. Brooks has turned to a tool called scenario planning that is used by Denver, Seattle and many other water planners. It tries to calculate a whole range of variables, including population growth and climate change. Expanded storage is only one of the responses. “Basically, conservation and optimization should be applied first,” says Brooks.
Expanded storage, however, will ultimately be necessary for a variety of purposes. “I don’t think we will ever be able to conserve our way out of needing an expanded Eagle Park Reservoir,” she says.

While needs of population growth can be met relatively easily, Brooks sees need to provide broader but somewhat more nebulous environmental and aesthetic benefits.

“It’s always been a little harder for our boards to wrap their heads around paying for the aesthetics in the streams,” she says. “They’ve certainly gone there in the past, paying literally millions to ensure the stream flows for health.”

Making that case is becoming easier. Water quality impacts from urbanization and other development impacts have become documented, and state water quality standards have tightened. As nutrients get washed into the waterways from stormwater, the capacity of the river gets whittled away, Brooks explains.

There seems to be no rush by anybody to build anything quickly. But there is a sense that the decisions made need to be very good. Unless the climate changes to produce more snow and rain, the upper basin will be without additional water to develop. Downstream, there could be more, but not at the headwaters.

“If it’s not the last drop, it’s darned close to the last drop in the Eagle, because you’re just physically constrained by what you can develop,” says the River District’s Currier.

Going farther downstream, as has been discussed with such “big straw” projects as the Yampa River pumpback or Flaming Gore pumpback, remains possible, adds Currier, but “at that point your energy costs are hugely significant.”

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

Eagle River Valley: Streamflow above average — thanks North American Monsoon #COdrought

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

For the first time in more than 110 weeks, according to the Colorado Climate Center, none of the state is in “exceptional drought,” the direst level of drought, which has only been seen once or twice every 100 years.

“They are not out of the woods in southeast Colorado yet,” said Wendy Ryan, assistant state climatologist. “They have a long road to recovery after four years of drought. These are the first real rains they have seen in some time.”[…]

It’s been a good summer for the area’s waterways, as far as river levels go. So good, in fact, that the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District hasn’t had to make changes to its water operations in order to keep stream levels up.

The water district’s Diane Johnson said that in previous years, a combination of dry skies and hot temperatures have forced the district to pull the area’s drinking water from different parts of the river in order to maintain the minimum stream-flow levers.

“A benchmark for us is that both the Eagle River and Gore Creek have been above the median for the whole season, which is great,” Johnson said. “Once it peaked, it’s stayed above the norm, which is good for fishing and boating.”[…]

Experts are calling the current wet cycle “monsoon” conditions, which they say is helping to alleviate the dry conditions that racked the state last year. In fact, statewide, precipitation was at 112 percent of average, and so far in August totals are 90 percent of the average.