Two recent biological health studies – one performed by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the other by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – substantiated Eagle River stakeholders’ concerns regarding water quality and biological heath degradation within the Gore Creek and Eagle River watersheds. Further study and regulatory action by the Water Quality Control Division in 2011 resulted in the listing of Gore Creek on the Clean Water Act’s 303(d) list of impaired waters for aquatic life use (provisional). Impairment of streams and rivers in the Eagle River watershed constitute a serious threat to local tourism-based economies and the quality of life of Eagle County residents, as the natural beauty and ecological vitality of local ecosystems constitute the largest draw to the area. In response to these concerns and in anticipation of the potential 303(d) Listing of many streams in the watershed, the Urban Runoff Group initiated this program to develop, fund, and implement effective water quality improvement and management measures to address water quality and aquatic health conditions in the Eagle River Watershed. The first phase of this ambitious effort focuses on Gore Creek.
Gore Creek flows west from its headwaters in the Gore Range through a narrow mountain valley for a distance of roughly 19 miles to its confluence with the Eagle River. Land uses within the Gore Creek watershed include: a major interstate highway (I-70), town and county roads, a golf course, a major ski area, a wastewater treatment facility, high/low density residential, high/low density commercial, water supply reservoirs, a campground, and timber harvest areas. Most of the urban development in the Town of Vail exists in areas immediately adjacent to the stream and within the boundaries of the valley-fill aquifer exacerbating existing and potential water quality and biological impacts to the stream ecosystem. Problematic water quality and biological stressors to the stream include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Pollutant loading during winter snowmelt and early spring runoff events;
- Loss of riparian wetlands and vegetation needed to buffer the impacts of streamside development;
- Untreated stormwater runoff from urban and commercial areas, highways, golf courses, parks, and residential areas;
- Stream habitat loss and degradation due to channelization and construction activities;
- High turbidity caused by snowmelt and storm event runoff from forest roads, highway cut and fill slopes, timber harvest areas, and construction sites; and
- Use of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides by residents and municipalities.
The Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) seeks to address issues of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability – specifically, stewardship of Eagle County’s rivers and creeks and the use and management of the land abutting these waterways. Effective water resource management requires an integrative and collaborative watershed-based approach that engages a broad array of perspectives, including water supply and wastewater providers, economic, government, recreation, and environmental interests. The Urban Runoff Group (URG) comprise such a stakeholder group that recognizes the importance of source water protection for human health and the socioeconomic vitality of the communities of Eagle County. The ecosystem planning and management approach embraced by the stakeholders asserts that all elements of the system should be planned for simultaneously. In accordance with this management approach, the stakeholders initiated work on the WQIP in 2011– a pilot program for the entire Eagle River Watershed designed to facilitate restoration in areas where aquatic life has been degraded and to protect and improve source water quality. The WQIP identifies and evaluates a broad range of best management practices (BMPs) for their applicability to source water protection and overall water quality improvement. Water quality protection and improvement BMPs to be considered will include, but are not limited to, the following: stormwater infrastructure, land use management strategies, riparian buffer restoration and protection, sediment control structures and drainage improvements, and educational programs.
The Urban Runoff Group and the WQIP are made possible by the sustaining support of a diverse group of stakeholders:
- Eagle River Watershed Council
- Eagle River Water & Sanitation District
- Town of Vail
- Town of Avon
- Colorado Department of Transportation
- Vail Resorts
- Vail Recreation District
- Climax Molybdenum