A host of problems threaten Gore Creek in Vail, but one of the biggest is what runs through the town’s storm drains.
Some of the problem will take years and a lot of money to solve. For instance, much of the runoff in town is no longer filtered through the soil, which has been replaced by pavement, concrete and rooftops throughout the years. But a number of problems may be due to people simply not knowing what happens when something runs into a storm grate.
Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden recently updated the Vail Town Council about state of stormwater and its treatment in town.
There are a number of ways to treat stormwater, including catch basins that can capture sand, oil and other material before it flows into the creek. There are 27 of those basins in town at the moment, and they’re cleaned out a couple of times every year, Wadden said. Upgrading those basins would be effective, but expensive, Wadden said.
Filtration has been improved at the town’s snow storage site, and improvements are planned for this year at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.
But the basins don’t catch everything.
There are also more than 2,000 storm drains, many of which flow directly into the creek. Slowing the runoff is a good start at cleaning up those areas. Creating zones where runoff could filter through rocks and soil before going into the creek could be effective.
Then there’s the problem of people dumping stuff into the storm grates.
During his presentation, Wadden went through a small list of stuff that people dropped into storm grates in 2016. That list includes cooking grease, paint and window cleaner.
A member of a construction crew in Vail Village dumped a bag of cement into a storm drain.
Town crews had to vacuum out the storm grate to catch as much of the powdered cement as possible. Wadden said the construction company wouldn’t name the employee who dumped the cement, so no ticket was issued.
In a separate incidence, no ticket was issued to a vendor at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games who dumped 120 hot dogs down a storm drain, which resulted in another good-sized cleanup.
“People just don’t know where the water goes,” Wadden said.
Council members said that needs to change.
An education campaign is already under way that includes advertising on town buses, and a proposal to create awareness-raising art on town storm drains. There’s also a town hotline, 970-476-4673 (GORE), to report dumping into storm drains. But that phone is only answered during normal business hours.
Council member Dick Cleveland asked if the phone could be routed into the town’s emergency dispatch center.
‘EASY TO UNDERSTAND’
Cleveland also asked Wadden if the education campaign could be expanded to include some sort of notice at virtually every storm grate in town. Cleveland said that’s the case in a California town near the beach.
The U.S. House of Representatives Monday passed the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act, and the Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act, legislation sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. to help Colorado communities and protect public lands. Several Colorado members of Congress co-sponsored the bills.
Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act will allow the town of Minturn to use its existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake by giving the town special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. When Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness Area in 1980, Bolts Ditch was inadvertently left off the list of existing water facilities.
The Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act would expand the Arapaho National Forest to include 10 new parcels of land, informally known as the “Wedge,” which are currently undeveloped. The move enables the U.S. Forest Service to protect and preserve an area were millions of people travel annually.
Polis, who lives near Boulder, represents part of the mountains including Summit County and about one-third of Eagle County.
“Today was a great win for Coloradans,” Polis said. “At a time when it seems that partisanship and divisiveness is at historic levels, it’s heartening to see members of the Colorado delegation work together to protect our public lands and find practical solutions for our communities. We should all be proud of the passage of these bills that will protect our wonderful wilderness and help our local economies.”
TWO ADDITIONAL BILLS APPROVED
The House of Representatives also approved two additional bills that Polis co-sponsored. Both bills settled long-standing land disputes in Colorado. The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would resolve a costly title dispute between the federal government and private landowners. It would convey a small portion of land near Rifle to property owners who have used and paid property taxes on the acreage for years. The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act would convey 320 acres of land on the west side of Pikes Peak to the U.S. Forest Service. The Broadmoor Hotel currently owns the land, and in exchange, the government will transfer an 83-acre parcel located at Emerald Valley Ranch to the Broadmoor.
Both Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner introduced Senate companion legislation to these four bills this session.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Lizzie Schoder):
This past year will likely break 2015’s mark of being the hottest year on record. Colorado has seen a similar trend, with a 2 degrees Fahrenheit bump statewide in the last 30 years. Colorado, like much of the Southwest, has also seen drought for the past decade, which has been felt most strongly in the western part of the state.
How does this affect our rivers? A warmer atmosphere has a drying effect overall — meaning more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and peak runoff and snowmelt happen earlier in the year. Although there is no significant change detected (so far) in the amount of precipitation, the change in the form of precipitation is what’s significant. Our snowpack levels, measured in snow water equivalent, act as nature’s time release to recharge our rivers. Less snowpack, or more precipitation that falls instead as rain, means less natural recharge, since rain runs through the watershed at a quicker rate.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports show trends of peak runoff and snowmelt occurring anywhere from one to four weeks earlier in the spring. Rain is an immediate surge to our rivers, but can give way to evaporation during hotter months of the summer. Snow, on the other hand, melts slowly, recharging the rivers at a steadier pace, especially during July and August when we need it most. Though predictions of how this will affect annual runoff vary, the 2011 Bureau of Reclamation report estimates that Colorado River flows will decrease by about 8.7 percent by 2060, or roughly the annual amount diverted by canal to Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. These trends along with increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures does not bode well for a region already dealing with prolonged drought.
Snowpack levels are a pivotal factor in ski communities. But it matters too for agriculture, irrigation, hydropower, river recreation and water quality. Lower water levels lead to shallower and therefore warmer rivers, affecting our plant and fish populations, as well as the aquatic bugs they need for food. Warming temperatures also mean that everything from crops to humans will need more water to compensate. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven different southwest states. The rising temperature trend will only put more pressure on an over-allocated system, pushing both the supply and demand of the Colorado River in the wrong direction.
While communities that depend on the Colorado River have gone to extraordinary lengths to buffer the impacts of climate change, we are heading for times where water shortages will be felt more than ever. According to the New York Times, Lake Powell provides water to one in eight Americans and waters one-seventh of the nation’s crops. Like the other dams and reservoirs in the Colorado River system, it’s completely over allocated — the water levels continue to dwindle and more water is being taken out than what flows into it. If Lake Powell isn’t able to supply the 7.5 million acre feet annually to the Lower Colorado Basin as required by the 1922 interstate compact, then a river call requiring Upper Basin communities, such as Eagle County, to use less water could come into effect in coming years.
The national political debate over the legitimacy of climate change will inevitably continue. But with our county’s population projected to nearly double by 2050, we must recognize that water is a nonpartisan issue. It is important that we voice our opinions and demand action at the national level, while also encouraging action at state and local levels where it can likely happen more quickly. From the standpoint of water and river protection however, we do not need to stand around waiting for our leaders to reach consensus on the existence of climate change.
There is no arguing that the level of water in Lake Powell — and its sister, Lake Mead — continue to drop, making it clear that water conservation and efficiency is of critical importance. That can happen through legislative actions, regulatory measures, but also where you can make an impact — in your home and garden. For more information, visit http://erwc.org.
Lizzie Schoder is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.
The Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing Minturn to use its existing water right to fill Bolts Lake. This would solve a problem created in 1980 when Congress designated Holy Cross Wilderness area, but inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off of the list of existing water facilities.
The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument legislation will allow for enhanced wildfire protection as well as additional habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for visitors. Established as a national monument in 1969, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located west of Pikes Peak and less than 40 miles from Colorado Springs. The monument is home to diverse fossil deposits, maintaining a collection of over 12,000 specimens. It also provides recreational experiences and curriculum-based education programs for its visitors. A private landowner submitted a proposal to donate 280 acres of land adjacent to Florissant Fossil Beds Monument, but due to current law the land donation cannot take place. This commonsense legislation would permit a landowner to donate private land to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The Wedge Act would aid the Forest Service in acquiring several parcels of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. This Act would help preserve critical wildlife habitat, Colorado River headwaters, and a highly visible view shed in the area commonly referred to as the Wedge.
The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act is a federal land exchange where the Forest Service would acquire pristine land in the Pike National Forest allowing for more outdoor recreation near Pikes Peak.
The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would correct the discrepancy that took place from conflicting land surveys and require the Forest Service to convey acreage to private ownership that is rightfully private property, according to the Forest Service’s own conclusion and recommendation. For nearly 100 years, 148 acres of land has been used as private land even though it is included in Forest Service survey maps, and this legislation allows for the resolution between the Forest Service and the private landowner.
“Colorado’s public lands are national treasures and I’m proud to work across the aisle to protect our state’s natural beauty,” Gardner said in an afternoon statement. “Each of these measures proposes a legislative fix that will have a lasting impact on Colorado and ensure future generations are able to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance these bills through the legislative process.”
Bennet added. “Our public lands define Colorado and help drive our outdoor recreation economy. These bipartisan, commonsense measures will help to preserve our pristine lands, protect wildlife habitats and expand outdoor access for years to come.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s been a busy year for the Watershed Council. The board and staff would like to take this time to thank everyone that participated in the wide variety of activities presented by our organization in 2016—from our educational Watershed Wednesdays series held throughout the valley, the sold out Wild and Scenic Film Festival, our annual Highway Cleanup, to our signature River Cleanup event. We would like to thank all of our funding partners that supported our mission of advocating for our rivers through educational programs, special events, restoration projects, monitoring, research, and community engagement.
Eagle River Watershed Council believes that our rivers and streams are the life-blood of our valley. Their preservation and restoration supports our economy, culture and quality of life.
The Watershed Council’s annual programs and events represent the public side of the work we do, but we are also involved in a variety of partnership efforts such as providing water quality sampling along Gore Creek, the Eagle River, and various tributary streams within the watershed. The sampling data collected and compiled by the Watershed Council is available in an interactive and easy to understand format online at http://wqcourier.erwc.org. The data also provides a baseline which can be used to identify emerging threats or effectiveness of stream health improvement projects.
Eagle River Watershed Council has coordinated the effort to improve water quality in our local streams through its participation in the Urban Runoff Group, a stakeholder committee that includes entities such as Eagle County, CDOT, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the towns of Avon and Vail, Vail Resorts and the Vail Recreation District. This group initiated the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan in 2013 and the Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan in 2015 culminating in the “Restore the Gore” program, for which projects are currently underway. The Watershed Council applauds the Vail Town Council for their vision in understanding that the health of Gore Creek benefits all user groups and for beginning the process of improving water quality on the Gore.
The three major factors that are likely affecting aquatic life in Gore Creek are not exclusive to that stream and can affect all urbanized waterways within the watershed. They are:
Pollution from chemicals used in urbanized areas adjacent to streams, such as fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides used in landscaping.
An increase in stormwater runoff from impervious areas such as roads, parking lots, buildings, and other hardscape areas that prevent infiltration of rain and snowmelt that would recharge the aquifer and support base flows.
Loss of vegetation along the stream. These riparian plants normally play a critical role in filtering pollutants from storm water runoff before it enters the stream.
The Watershed Council, through the Urban Runoff Group, has just completed an action plan for a segment of the Eagle River from its confluence with Gore Creek downstream to the EagleVail half diamond interchange. In assessing this section of river, the Watershed Council provided recommendations to mitigate the effects of urbanization affecting water quality. This includes recommendations for changes to land use regulations, improved storm water infrastructure, and projects to restore vegetation along the stream.
In 2017, we look forward to assisting with the implementation of the completed Action Plans and completing the same process through the other communities in the valley.
We have a full schedule of Watershed Wednesdays, filled with great tours and engaging presentations, coming together for the year as well. Our 2017 restoration projects are in design and planning now, we look forward to utilizing our wonderful cadre of volunteers this next summer in implementing those. Stay tuned if you are interested in getting involved.
With the addition of new boat ramps, increased river access through open space parcels and an increase in population over the last several years, river usage is at an all time high. We as a community need to be vigilant to balance the economic and recreational usage of our rivers that we all enjoy with the need to improve or maintain a high level of water quality throughout the watershed.
Gary Brooks is the Board Chairman for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.
Here’s the release from the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District:
Water Authority brings new water storage tank online.
Representatives of the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, town of Avon, and Mountain Star Association gathered Dec. 8 to mark the completion of a new water storage tank that serves the Mountain Star community.
The Water Authority put the 270,000-gallon tank into service Nov. 15, after it was completed on time and under budget during a six-month construction window.
Envisioned in 1993 – when Avon originally approved the subdivision – the tank is one of five that along with five booster pump stations comprises the potable water supply system that had to be built to deliver water from the valley floor to the high alpine development north of Avon.
The 1993 subdivision approval anticipated this tank being built at a future date when suitable U.S. Forest Service land could be obtained. The then-existing Avon Metro District agreed that it would collect tap fees from homes that were built and served by a somewhat-temporary water supply system until this storage tank could be constructed.
The Water Authority acquired the necessary Forest Service property in May 2013 as part of the complex, multi-year Eagle Valley Land Exchange agreement. With the site acquisition costs and ongoing pump station improvements, the Authority has recently spent about $2.2 million on the Mountain Star system.
Mountain Star, Avon, and Authority representatives worked together for several years to agree on funding and construction of the final storage tank, which resulted in an Implementation Agreement. The project cost estimate of $1.85 million was more than the amount of tap fees collected by Avon since 1993, so Mountain Star homeowners agreed to fund the remaining cost. The Authority committed $135,000 to upgrade to a longer-lasting, less maintenance-dependent tank. The Agreement also included a guaranteed maximum price contract and a provision that Mountain Star homeowners would receive any cost savings.
The Water Authority used an integrated project delivery method for the tank and the actual cost is projected to be $1.55 million, a savings of about $300,000. The Authority will refund this savings to Mountain Star after final accounting of the actual project costs.
At 9,380 feet, the new tank serves higher-elevation residences and benefits public safety via enhanced fire protection. While the tank provides additional water storage, the parties are committed to efficient water use with many homeowners participating in the Authority’s water demand management pilot study to establish new irrigation practices that benefit landscapes while decreasing overall water use.
Contact: Linn Brooks, General Manager: 970-476-7480
A vision gains support for freeing Eagle River from WWII straitjacket
Work could begin in 2018 in restoring the Eagle River at Camp Hale, the training site for the 10th Mountain Division, to something more closely resembling its pre-World War II look and functions.
Photos of the valley by William Henry Jackson, the famous landscape photographer of the 19th century, show a meandering river through the valley, called Eagle Park, clogged with willows and wetlands. A steam train chugged through the valley and later, at a railroad siding called Pando, ice was harvested.
All this changed in 1942. The U.S. Army first considered a site near Yellowstone National Park and other options before settling on the valley, elevation 9,200 feet, for training of elite troops capable of engaging enemy soldiers in mountainous terrain. Access to a transcontinental railroad was key. Within a few months, streets had been created, barracks erected, and the river confined to a straight-as-an-arrow ditch.
Now, 74 years later, it’s still in that same ditch.
After the 10th Mountain soldiers were dispatched in 1944 to Texas for toughening up, the Army began dismantling Camp Hale. Barracks and other buildings were leveled, including the auditorium where visiting dignitaries such as prize- winning fighter Joe Louis and actress Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, appeared. The camp was used once more from 1959 to 1965, this time by the Central Intelligence Agency for training of Tibetan guerrillas, before the military reservation was returned to the U.S. Forest Service.
But even now, cleanup from the war efforts continues. In 1997, an unexploded mortar shell was discovered on Mt. Whitney, in the nearby Homestake Valley. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later tried to recover all old weapons of war from the landscape,
returning again this summer for a final sweep using metal detectors. There’s some lingering asbestos. And there’s the ditch called the Eagle River.
Many stakeholders in Camp Hale
Talk about restoring the river has occurred several times since the 1970s, says Marcus F. Selig, of the National Forest Foundation, a non-profit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, but never made significant progress. The new effort began in 2013, when 40 groups with a direct interest in the valley were gathered to work toward a coherent vision for a restored landscape.
The Aspen-based 10th Mountain Division Hut Association has several huts in the area. Meeker residents Sam and Cheri Robinson have grazed thousands of sheep every summer in the mountains above Camp Hale. The dwindling number of 10th Mountain vets and now their descendants want the legacy of their war training remembered.
Stakeholders agreed that what exists now is “not a healthy aquatic ecosystem,” says Selig, the vice president of programs for the National Forest Foundation.
What has emerged is a plan that would create five to seven miles of a meandering, ox-bowed Eagle River in the valley bottom as it winds around to the east, from the Climax Mine. The work would also create 200 acres of wetlands. The dirt moving would create a 300-foot-wide flood plain or riparian area.
A related but somewhat separate effort involves creating an even stronger historical presence. A pullout along Highway 24 has exhibits, but the 10th Mountain has enough of a compelling story to justify a book. In fact, about 10 of them have been written, along with films and other remembrances.
In Italy, the 10th Mountain engaged in fierce fighting in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. Among the veterans were Fritz Benedict, the architect who was an integral part of the post-World War II revitalization of Aspen, and Pete Seibert, who also spent several years in Aspen during its early incarnation as a ski town before eventually creating Vail. The two are just the tip of the ski history iceberg involving Camp Hale.
Then there are side-stories. Camp Hale was also used to hold prisoners of war, in particular those of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps. For mystifying reasons, the Army also stationed German sympathizers deemed too risky to become front-line soldiers next to the POW camp.
One of them included a brilliant Harvard- trained philologist, Dale Maple, who engineered an escape with two POWs. As told in a New Yorker story, they made it as a far as Mexico before being apprehended.
What it will take
What will it take to get the Eagle River out of its straitjacket? Money, obviously. The cost has been estimated at $10 to $20 million. The plan also needs Forest Service approval. The proposal is currently being reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act process.
“It’s not happening anytime soon,” says Selig, of dirt-moving. “It’s a multi-year project. In the best-case scenario we would start work in 2018.”
One possibility is that wetlands created at Eagle Park could be used to offset wetlands destroyed elsewhere, such as by creation of a reservoir. One such reservoir is among the options on nearby Homestake Creek being studied by two Front Range cities and their Western Slope partners. Such in- lieu payments would provide money.
Another possibility is if Camp Hale gets federal designation as a national historic landscape. The idea was proffered by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Memorial Day. No such designation classification now exists. It would literally take an act of Congress. But there is some speculation that a designation could also produce money for river restoration along with historical preservation.
“That would be wonderful,” says Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District of the Forest Service, of the idea of federal funding. However, he also reports he has seen nothing in writing.
Mayville reports that the Army Corps of Engineers this year, in addition to trying to find old bullets and perhaps mortars with a metal detector, has been working to clean up asbestos. “They used asbestos building materials at just about every building out there,” he says. He says the final work on asbestos removal will occur this fall.
Whatever happens in the future, says Mayville, the plans must honor the reality that there have been both multiple historic and current users. “It’s a very complex piece of ground,” he says.
Selig says the National Forest Foundation’s plan recognizes these different histories and the multiplicity of current stakeholders. “We are not doing full ecological restoration. We not putting it back to exactly what it was. We are not leaving all history untouched,” he says. It is a “vision built on compromise.”
This story was originally published in the Aspen (Colo.) Daily News on Sept. 25.