Snow on Gore Creek
Gore Creek was officially designated as an "impaired stream" in 2012.
 
Vail Homeowners Association Newsletter   
 
News, Analysis, and Commentary for Vail Homeowners

April 11, 2014
(Updated 4/25/14)
 
In This Issue
Executive Summary - Gore Creek Cleanup
Gore Creek Update
The Challenge to Town Leadership
Lessons That Could Be Learned
ERWSD Plans and Ballot Proposals
The May 2014 Special District Elections
Town of Vail Community Survey
Become A Member
Executive Summary

 

Recent events have moved the cleanup of Gore Creek pollution to center stage and challenged political leadership to find fair and responsible solutions. New regulations have resulted in Gore Creek being designated as an impaired waterway by the State of Colorado. The Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan recommends consideration of the establishment of a new government agency, with a dedicated source of local taxpayer revenue, for management of the cleanup. There is the potential, if other solutions are not found, for local taxpayers to build a costly stormwater collection and treatment system. Many questions are involved, including the nature of the pollution, how it can be effectively cleaned up, who will take the lead and what the ultimate price tag will be.

The Town of Vail has committed to have its own Strategic Action Plan ready by the end of this year to comprehensively clean up Gore Creek. Perhaps, before the Vail community supports the proposed Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (ERWSD) tax increase and TABOR spending limits waiver, it would be advisable for all interests, including the Town of Vail, ERWSD and taxpayers from all the affected communities, to have the opportunity to come to a consensus about how the overall cleanup of Gore Creek and the Eagle River is to proceed and be financed.

 

In forming this consensus, it would be helpful to be guided by a proposed management pro forma, which should include an analysis of the soundness of the financing obligations incurred by the election issues under discussion as well as the other costs that will be required to get Gore Creek back to its proper status.

 

At the same time, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (ERWSD) is moving forward with a $95 million Master Plan to upgrade its three Gore Creek and Eagle River wastewater treatment plants. However, the proposed upgrades will not offset pollution in the Gore Creek drainage above the Vail treatment plant. The ERWSD has decided to seek voter approval for a $25 million tax increase and a TABOR revenue limitation "de-Brucing" waiver to fund Phase 2 of the work. The District, to take advantage of potential state or federal grants that might reduce taxpayer debt, wants to remove TABOR voter approval requirements allowing them to exceed mandatory revenue and spending caps.

 

The District is proposing to extend and add to its current tax rate effective in 2017. The tax proposal would amount to $29.22 annually per $500,000 of home value, although the actual mill levy could vary year to year over the 30 year life of the bonds. Phase 1, already authorized for $28 million, is slated to begin construction in 2014 and is paid for by a ratepayer increase of $6 per month beginning in 2015. According to the ERWSD, if the May 6th tax increase ballot measures fail, monthly customer rates will again rise by nearly $5. This being the case because of the availability of other potential funding sources; revenue bonds - even though more expensive, may be the most economical approach. Relying on revenue bonds, which impose uniform rates upon all customers, creates the incentive for the District to negotiate the best funding options with state authorities before increasing its taxpayer debt or customer rates.

 

The District has not yet determined how it intends to fund the $42 million balance of the Master Plan. What the District is doing is much more extensive and the cost is greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase, but the District's actions have received little public attention, scrutiny or critical debate within the context of the larger cleanup obligations, particularly among non-resident property owners, many of whom are eligible to vote in the special district elections.

 

The upcoming May 6th special district elections will provide District property owners, registered to vote in Colorado, an opportunity to not only decide the ERWSD's proposed tax increase and TABOR waiver, but also determine the make-up of their 7 member Board of Directors, as 4 of those seats are up for election and another will be appointed by the Board after the election as no candidate stepped forward to run in Director District 3. The newly elected Board will oversee implementation of its long-term Master Plan.

  

The Vail Homeowners Association gives candidates the opportunity to provide written answers "in their own words" to questions gathered from members of the community. Each candidate's responses are posted on the Association's website. ERWSD candidate questions are:

  1. What are the pro's and con's associated with the proposed tax increase and de-brucing waiver?

  2. What changes might you make to the organization and operation of the ERWSD to insure that it functions within its revenue limitations?

  3. Why should, or why shouldn't, the ERWSD assume the responsibility to oversee and administer the operation of a stormwater collection and treatment system? If not ERWSD, who should?

  4. How and why are you qualified to serve as a member of the ERWSD Board of Directors?

View candidate responses here: ERWSD Candidate Responses.

 

For more details, read on... 

   

Gore Creek Update

 

In the VHA December Newsletter it was reported that portions of Gore Creek had failed to meet new State of Colorado water quality standards and that the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (ERWSD) was conducting smoke tests on its wastewater collection system to make sure that stormwater runoff from individual properties and the Town's collection system is not entering the ERWSD's wastewater collection system. Now more has come to light about the condition of Gore Creek and what will be required to be done; while at the same time the ERWSD is moving forward with its plans for wastewater plant improvements. These developments raised a host of serious questions for Vail homeowners.
Teva Mt Games Rafter
Special Events that include kayak whitewater competitions on Gore Creek draw many thousands of visitors to Vail.

 

Gore Creek Pollution: Gore Creek is one of Vail's crown jewels; a source of both beauty and pride. It is the community's primary source of domestic water and it runs nearly 11 miles along the valley floor snaking through the Town of Vail. For decades, the section downstream of the District's Lionshead wastewater treatment facility has been designated a "Gold Medal Trout Stream," a designation it still enjoys. In high-water years Gore Creek supports rafting and other recreational uses and it is the focus of many Town activities, including in recent years, winter ice carving displays and international level white-water events.

 

The health of Gore Creek has been studied for over 20 years. Historically there has been little regulation of runoff into Gore Creek. Streamside vegetation has not been protected and many property owners have extended their landscaping to the creek. Nonetheless, Gore Creek remained in compliance with applicable "fit for human consumption" standards.

 

There was, however, concern over the impact of development and urbanization in the valley and, in 2010, in anticipation of a potential need for corrective measures, many stakeholders, among them the Town of Vail, ERWSD, Vail Resorts and CDOT, formed the Urban Runoff Group (URG). The URG, in turn, undertook the development of the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan. While the plan envisions further study and monitoring, a number of items for planning and implementation have already been identified. Of particular note is the recommendation that the creation of a new agency, with a dedicated revenue stream, be considered.

 

The plan comes none too late as in 2012 the State of Colorado, as required by the Federal Clean Water Act, enacted new "healthy stream" standards that imposed criterea for determining the health of a river using aquatic macroinvertebrate (bug) population characteristics (Aquatic Life Use Attainment Methodology). Under those standards, the upper section of Gore Creek - from East Vail to above the ERWSD treatment plant located in west Lionshead - fell below the requirements. As a result, in December 2012 that portion, along with the remainder of Gore Creek to its confluence with the Eagle River and a segment of Red Sandstone Creek was designated as impaired by the State of Colorado. 

Snowplowed Roadway Edge
Untreated roadway cinders, oil and mag choride salts from snowplowing eventually make their way into Gore Creek.

 

Sources of the Pollution: While upper Gore Creek has been designated "impaired," there is no "point source" location of the pollution. Instead, the pollution has been tied to three causes: (1) stream bank degradation due to development extending to the water's edge which prevents natural filtration of the creek water, (2) urban runoffs containing hydrocarbons and road salt (mag. chloride) which end up in the creek because of impervious covering of a large percentage of the valley floor (roadways, parking lots, etc.) and (3) pollutants from land-use activities (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). Moreover, ground water migration may be bringing pollutants from locations other than streamside locations. As a result, finding a solution to Gore Creek's pollution will not be easy. Given the complexity of the pollution causes, the overall solution will most likely require a multiplicity of actions.

 

Urban runoffs are of particular concern because they are largely untreated discharges. For example, the Town of Vail's stormwater collection system only has sand traps to remove particulates; there is no filtration to remove toxic pollutants. And while there are traction sand collection ponds along the Vail pass portion of I-70, that runoff is also unfiltered for hydrocarbon and mag. chloride contaminates.

 

The Challenge to Town Leadership

 

The Town of Vail is not presently obligated to do anything to clean up Gore Creek. That, however, begs the question of whether the Town will pick up the leadership banner, given the importance of the creek to the community. It is, after all, the Town of Vail that has the most to lose from a polluted creek. And that is a situation that cries out for political leadership from the Town.
Kids By Gore Creek
Vail, since its beginning, has had a legacy of protecting Gore Creek's tourism value through stream bank, wetland and open space protections.

 

From an action standpoint, the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan provides a good blueprint, but it is not yet clear what the Town will do. So far, the Town's initial efforts seem to be directed at the regulation of pesticides and fertilizers and some site specific actions while it evaluates whether to: impose penalties for removal of riparian vegetation, increase stream set-backs, create "no-mow" buffer zones, require increased landscaping and stormwater treatment at parking sites and undertake aggressive enforcement of illegal dumping into the Creek.

 

Yet to be addressed are the critical questions of whether the Town will take the lead in managing the overall cleanup by itself or through the creation of a new agency, and what the source of funding for the cleanup will be. Also still to be addressed are the more sensitive questions of what might be required of stream-side homeowners in the way of repair or restoration - such as the reintroduction of native plant species to filter the creek - or what might be necessary to deal with urban runoff. Nor has the Town decided whether to impose Best Management Practices (BMPs) in key areas.

 

Still, the clock is ticking. It has now been over two years since Gore Creek was designated as impaired. And it is not just Gore Creek but rather the entire Gore Creek drainage that needs to be addressed. That includes the Gore Creek tributaries of Black Gore, Booth and Red Sandstone creeks, as each delivers inflows into Gore Creek.

 

Much can be expected in the coming months as the Town has committed to develop a Strategic Action Plan by December 2014. VHA intends to closely monitor the situation and will regularly report on developments (See VHA October 7, 2014 Newsletter).
 
Role of the State and Federal Governments: Also not yet addressed are the obligations of CDOT and the Federal Government for mitigating the detrimental effects of I-70 run-off.   It seems logical that a significant portion of the pollution of Gore Creek comes from the maintenance of (mag. chloride) and traffic use (hydrocarbons) of I-70. And, while CDOT has built collection ponds along Vail Pass to prevent traction sand flow-through to Gore Creek and has a road sand removal program, there are no runoff collection ponds west of Mile Marker 182 and no treatment facilities for any of the runoff. What the obligation of CDOT and/or the Federal Government is, or should be, to contribute to the solutions for Gore Creek is a consideration which should be addressed.

    

Lessons That Could Be Learned

 

While the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan provides a blueprint for moving forward, Vail could gain some valuable insight from studying the steps taken to protect Lake Tahoe, the actions of Austin, Texas and the restoration of the Eagle River, particularly in the Minturn area. Beginning in the 1980s governments around Lake Tahoe imposed a series of measures to prevent pollution of the Lake, which have been largely successful. At the same time, Austin, Texas was faced with non-point source pollution and decided to require stormwater BMPs at all new developments. And the Eagle River was seriously polluted due to runoff from the old Eagle Mine at Gilman. Through a series of land-use regulations for property adjacent to the river and repairs of channel courses and streamside conditions, the river was eventually restored to a healthy state.

While regulation of private property adjacent to the creek will potentially be a contentious issue, dealing with urban runoff could be an even bigger problem. As the ERWSD separates illegal stormwater runoff connections from its wastewater collection system, more of the Town of Vail and surrounding community's stormwater runoff will find its way to Gore Creek. At the same time, runoff from I-70 and Gore Creek tributaries continues unabated. The Town will have to consider the adoption of uniform regulations and/or mandatory Best Managment Practices for the collection and disposal of that runoff. It may even ultimately have to build a runoff collection and treatment system. If upgrades to the ERWSD's existing plants alone have a $62 million price tag, the cost of stormwater collection and treatment facilities could be many times more. The financial impact of such actions cannot be judged at this time since there might be sources of state and federal funding that could substantially reduce the financial burden on local taxpayers.  

  

ERWSD Plans and Ballot Proposals

 

ERWSD is a special taxing district that was created in 1962 to provide public water and wastewater treatment systems in the eastern half of Eagle County, roughly from Vail to Cordillera. The ERWSD encompasses not only Vail property owners but many other down-valley property owners. It is divided into seven Director Districts and governed by a publicly elected seven-member Board of Directors.
Vail  Waste Water Treatment Plant
Vail Waste Water Treatment Plant located along side Gore Creek in West Lionshead

 

 

ERWSD operates three wastewater treatment plants; one in Vail at Lionshead and two others in Avon and Edwards. The Lionshead plant discharges into Gore Creek; the Avon and Edwards plants discharge into the Eagle River. The entire section of Gore Creek from its confluence with Black Gore Creek to its confluence with the Eagle River in Dowd Junction is listed as impaired for aquatic life use by the state, even though below the Vail plant the impairment standard is not in violation, but hovers near it, as does a section of the Eagle River from Down Junction to Edwards. Therefore, the State has mandated ERWSD to improve the effluent nutrient discharge (reduce phosphorus and nitrogen) at all three of its plants. While reduced discharges will improve the quality of downstream water, the changes to the ERWSD treatment plants will do nothing to clean up the upper portions of Gore Creek which are currently designated as impaired.

 

More to the Story: Recently, the ERWSD sent a notice of potential election to its customers announcing that, to fund changes in its treatment plants, it intended to seek a $25 million tax increase and exemption from TABOR revenue and spending limits. The letter only addressed the funds needed over the next "several years" but it did not clarify that these measures are not the total extent of the District's actions. What the District is doing is much more extensive and the cost will be greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase, but the District's actions have received little public attention, scrutiny or critical debate within the context of the larger cleanup obligations.

  

The current financial plan supported by the District's proposed ballot issues A and B funds a portion of the District's Master Plan to meet regulatory requirements. The District has taken steps to prepare its customers for the costs of the improvements it believes are necessary to reduce nutrient discharges and benefit aquatic life, however, there should be further discussion about the additional financing that will be required over the next 10 to 15 years, particularly with non-resident property owners.

   

The ERWSD Master Plan

 

The District's strategy is contained in its 2012 Wastewater Master Plan Update. The fifteen year plan involves three things: an increase in overall wastewater treatment capacity, an upgrade of its treatment plants to reduce nutrient discharges and consolidation of solid waste treatment at the Edwards treatment plant. The total cost is projected to be $95 million through 2028. According to the District, it considered eight different alternative plans before selecting what is in the Master Plan, which was one of the lower cost alternatives. There was, however, limited local public vetting of that process and the various choices; no public discussion took place for those property owners who are not local residents. In the alternative selected by the District, the upgrades for just reducing nutrient discharges comprise approximately two-thirds of the total cost, or about $62 million, a figure that is greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase. Importantly, these improvements will not offset pollution in the Gore Creek drainage above the Vail treatment plant.
Green Bridge By Vail Treatment Plant Outfall

Telltale signs of phosphate pollution are the soap bubbles coming from the Vail Treatment Plant outfall. The facility is in compliance with its state issued permit, however, upgrades are required to meet the new state water quality standards. Proposed plant improvements are to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from domestic sewage.

 

  

While the overall plan has been presented to the Town of Vail (for informational purposes only since the Town has no authority over the District) and in other local forums where the issues went largely unquestioned, the plan has received little public scrutiny, attention or reaction, particularly by the majority of customers who are non-residents. Many of these residents are eligible to vote in the upcoming special district election and should have the opportunity to participate in the decision making process.

 

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (ERWSD) is moving forward with Phase 2 of the work for its $95 million Master Plan to upgrade its three Gore Creek and Eagle River wastewater treatment plants and has decided to seek voter approval for a $25 million tax increase and a TABOR revenue limitation "de-Brucing" waiver. The District, to take advantage of potential state or federal grants that could reduce taxpayer debt, needs to remove TABOR voter approval requirements allowing them to exceed mandatory revenue and spending caps. The District is proposing to extend and add to its current tax rate. The tax proposal would amount to $29.22 annually per $500,000 of home value, although the actual mill levy could vary year to year over the 30 year life of the bonds.

 

Phase 1, the consolidation of solid waste treatment at the Edwards treatment plant and some miscellaneous improvements, already authorized for $28 million, is slated to begin construction in 2014 and is paid for by a ratepayer increase of $6 per month beginning in 2015. According to the ERWSD, if the May 6th tax increase election fails, monthly customer rates will again rise  by nearly $5. This being the case because of the availability of other potential funding sources; revenue bonds - even though more expensive, may be the most economical approach. Relying on revenue bonds, which impose uniform rates upon all customers, creates the incentive for the District to negotiate the best funding options with state authorities before increasing its taxpayer debt or customer rates.

 

The District has not yet determined how it intends to fund the estimated $42 million balance of the Master Plan. It is important to note that cost estimates will be reevaluated as each phase of the project is completed and will be affected by the implementation of new state regulations by other communities upstream, fluctuations in treatment technology costs and changing environmental factors. What the District is doing is much more extensive and the cost is greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase, but the District's actions have received little public attention, scrutiny and critical debate within the context of the larger cleanup obligations, particularly among non-resident property owners, many of whom are eligible to vote in the election.

 

Improvements to the facilities need to be completed so that they meet the new regulations as each facility's discharge permit is renewed with the state over the next several years. Knowledge of the District's time table for permit renewal would be useful public information in assessing the urgency of the staging and financing of required improvements. If the voters don't support the May 6th ballot measures, the District is planning to move the project forward, funded by revenue bonds.

 

What's The Rush? The tax increase related construction upgrades of the treatment plants are not scheduled until 2017, beginning at the Vail plant, and even when completed will not impact the portion of Gore Creek that is currently in violation of standards. The Town of Vail has committed to have its own Strategic Action Plan ready by the end of this year. Many decisions concerning the Gore Creek cleanup must be made, at least some of which may have significant financial consequences.

 

Perhaps, before the Vail community supports the proposed ERWSD tax increase and TABOR waiver, it would be advisable for all interests, including the Town of Vail, ERWSD and taxpayers from all the affected communities, to have the opportunity to come to a consensus about how the overall cleanup of Gore Creek is to proceed and be financed. In forming this consensus, it would be helpful to be guided by a proposed management pro forma, which should include an analysis of the soundness of the financing obligations incurred by the election issues under discussion as well as the other costs that will be required to get Gore Creek back to its proper status.

 

The May 2014 Special District Elections

 

The May 6th special district elections at which the ERWSD ballot issues will come up also include the election of four of the seven member ERWSD Board of Directors. The newly elected Board will then appoint a fifth member of the Board for a seat which received no nominations. The Vail Recreation District (VRD), which itself is engaged in similar complex preservation and land-use issues, also has a majority of its Board of Director seats up for election.

 

Unlike the Town Council elections, all individuals who own property within the boundaries of the respective districts and their spouses or civil union partners are eligible to vote in both the ERWSD and VRD elections as long as they are registered to vote in Colorado. This creates the opportunity for many non-resident property owners to help shape the outcome of those elections. However, the two elections will be handled differently.

 

The ERWSD election is a "mail ballot" only election so all eligible electors will be sent a ballot between April 14th and April 21st. That is not required for the VRD election. For the VRD election, eligible voters who want to vote by mail will have to request a ballot from the Designated Election Official. Obviously these different procedures have the potential to create confusion, but VHA has been involved in a campaign to ensure that all who want to vote will be able to do so.

 

See the VHA website for more information on voter eligibility, registering to vote and requesting ballots for both elections.
 
Town of Vail Community Survey

 

 
The Town of Vail is conducting their Annual Community Survey. The survey is an important tool for the town to determine community needs and evaluate services. We encourage full participation. The survey is open to:
  • Full-time Residents
  • Part-time Residents
  • Guests of Vail
  • Business Owners
  • Employees

Survey participants can choose to be entered in a drawing to win $500 toward their choice of a 2014-15 season parking pass, EPIC ski pass or gift certificate to a Vail business.

 

The survey is available in two formats, online at www.tovsurvey.com or in a paper, mail back format available at the front desk of the Vail Municipal Building. The deadline for responses is April 28th. Results will be released in June and posted on the town's website. For more information, call the community information office at 970-479-2115.

  

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