|Sand unsettling for
fish, bugs, environmentalists
Traction sand being removed
from Black Gore Creek for the first time
A handful of mucky sand from the
bottom of Black Gore Creek. The sand is harming fish, bugs and
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
October 4, 2005
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VAIL — Up to their waists in murky brown water,
two wader-clad men used a state-of-the-art magnum wand to suck sand
from the bottom of Black Gore Creek near Black Lake #2 at the top of
Seth Tucker wielded an instrument resembling a large, metal vacuum
cleaner, which pushed water out one nozzle to churn up the sand and
sucked it back up into hoses that snaked their way up the river bank.
A few feet away, Jason Beach monitored two floating pumps that helped
transport the water.
“The payoff from looking back on projects like
this is really cool,” Tucker said. “The stream is so much cleaner. You
did something positive.”
A handful of rocks from the bottom
of Black Gore Creek after sand has been sucked from the water.
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
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The men of Streamside Systems rolled into town last weekend and
launched into a project to remove about 1,100 cubic yards of so-called
“traction” sand from Black Gore Creek.
The non-native sand, that now stands several feet deep in some
portions of the stream, is a leftover from road construction and
erosion from Interstate 70.
The sand is spread over the interstate to add traction to the often
icy pass and stored on the side of the road.
Unhealthy for the existing ecosystem, Randall Tucker and his crew at
Streamside Systems will suck the sand until they hit rock bottom, he
Benefits of the rock bottom
The mass quantities of sand in the water led the Environmental
Protection Agency to classify Black Gore Creek an impaired stream in
2002, meaning current conditions are less than ideal for water quality
and aquatic life. Essentially, the sand is choking the life out of the
“Trout rely on gravel beds for reproduction, and
there needs to be a lot of flow of oxygen in the gravel bed to bring
oxygen to the eggs,” said Bruce Zander, a who monitors the Clean Water
Act for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
| See for yourself
|The public is invited to visit Black
Lake #2 where Streamside Systems will pump sand out of the
Gore Creek between noon and 2 p.m. Thursday.
To get to the lake, take Interstate 70 east. Take the exit at
the top of the Vail Pass at mile marker 187.9. Once off the
interstate make a U-turn onto old state Highway 6 and follow
the road until you reach a parking lot at a gate.
From there, follow the path on foot for about 15 minutes.
Special accomodations can be made to shuttle guests from the
parking area to demonstration site by calling the Eagle River
Watershed Council at 827-5406.
“(Water insects) also attach themselves to the rocks in the water, and
if you fill the bed full of sediment, they can’t populate," he said.
"There’s no food base for the trout, so there’s not trout. It’s all
Without a cleanup, the stream’s ecosystem will change to allow
sand-dwelling bugs, while pushing out the gravel bed bugs, said Bill
Carlson, the environmental health officer and planner for the town of
The sand-resistant bugs also may push out the fish that rely on
different insects for food, Carlson said.
Safe driving vs. the environment
The Colorado Department of Transportation has used sand mixed with
salt “since the beginning of time” to provide traction on icy winter
roads, said agency spokeswoman Stacey Stegman.
For the transportation agency, there are no easy answers to making
sure the interstate is safe while also looking out for the
environment, Stegman said.
“Each method has its downside,” she said. “We use all of them in
limited quantities to get the safest roads that we can.”
With the development of liquid, chemical deicers in the 1980s, many
roads received the new concoction. However, in colder locations with a
large amount of snow pack, the liquid deicer was rendered less
effective, and it was back to sand and salt.
“We would have to use truckloads of (liquid)
deicer for it to be effective up there,” said Stegman, who said large
quantities of liquid deicer would harm water, vegetation and human
health. “It’s not a good product to have in the environment.”
Jason and Kevin Beach used a
high-tech wand to suck sand use for traction on nearby I-70 out of
Black Gore Creek, the stream that flows down Vail Pass.
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
Browse Vail Daily Photos
To compensate for spreading sand on roadways, Stegman said the
transportation agency has and continues to spend millions to help
repair the harmful environmental effects of sand.
In 2001, the agency built the “sand castle” a four-story building at
the Vail Pass in which to store traction sand, instead of letting it
sit on the side of the road and leak into the stream.
Caroline Bradford, director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, said
the transportation agency also has built 38 sediment basins to catch
the sand coming off the interstate. And while people praise the
agency’s efforts, advocates say there is much left to do.
“Although there has been a lot done ... there is still inevitably this
big movement of sand that makes it into Black Gore Creek,” Zander
said. “There’s evidence that there’s still sand coming in, but not
nearly at the rate that we’ve seen in the past.”
Basins have helped alleviate the situation, and in a stroke of good
luck, beavers have lent their obliging buck teeth to help out.
By building dams along the creek, the furry critters helped slow the
flow of sand, allowing Streamside Systems convenient locations to
begin pumping, Bradford said.
However, when the dams wash out, as many
inevitably will, the sand will move downstream and into Vail Village’s
Gore Creek, said Bob Weaver, a project manager with Hydrosphere
| What you can do
|Today through Sunday, you can volunteer
with the Eagle River Watershed Council to help remove sand
from Black Gore Creek. Volunteers can be part of the following
• Field and Stream Team: Put on waders and help use sand wands
to suction sand out of the creek.
• Flaggers: Work to ensure the safety of bicyclists and
pedestrians on the bike path.
• Shuttle van: Drive guests from parking area to demonstration
• Picnic hosts and greeters: Simple picnic sandwiches and
bottled water will be served to guests who join the effort at
Call the Eagle River Watershed Council at 827-5406 or e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up as a volunteer
for three- to five-hour shifts on any or all of the days.
“This usually happens at a time when streams have high flows and a
great capacity to transport the sediment; it’s typically not a lasting
or significant impact,” Weaver said.
“But in the Black Gore Creek, that process is really accelerated …
When (the dams) fail, there’s a larger impact. It’ll be harder to wash
it out of the system.”
This project will remove just a small portion of the massive amount of
sand in Black Gore Creek, but Bradford maintains all the baby steps
“It seems like they’ve got all the right actors in the play,” Zander
said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The sand sucked from the river bottom will be bagged and dried out in
large, four-foot high bags along the Vail Pass bike path. Once dried
the sand will fill 100 trucks and has potential to be used in other
“It’ll be important to monitor the results of this project, and see if
it’s beneficial,” Weaver said. “If it is, it could set a precedent for
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or