Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office announced Aug. 16 that the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees approved a $275,000 settlement with the owner of Vail Mountain over a 2021 incident that resulted in two million gallons of contaminated water being released into local creeks.
The settlement came after a six-month investigation by state authorities that found from Sept. 17-20, 2021, Vail Mountain left isolation valves for its snowmaking system open, releasing around two million gallons of contaminated water into Mill Creek and Gore Creek near Vail.
In May 2022, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment served The Vail Corporation, which owns and operates Vail Ski Resort, with a notice of violation and a cease and desist order along with the findings of the investigation. According to CDPHE, on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2021, two valves for Vail Corporation’s snow making system were left open which resulted in the discharge into Mill Creek feeding into Gore Creek. The investigation found the water discharged was a combination of potable water and water that had been sitting in storage tanks for the system. The valves were shut off the morning of Sept. 20, 2021, according to the investigation, but by that time a number of fish and other aquatic life were killed. According to CDPHE, investigators with Colorado Parks and Wildlife found blue-ish white colored water leading to the snowmaking system and found 120 dead fish, dead algae and dead insects along 1.5 miles of water between Mill Creek and Gore Creek. Possible pollutants from the discharge, the investigation found, could have included copper or chlorine used in the storage water.
The settlement, announced Aug. 16, takes effect once signed by the state controller and resolves all state claims connected to the incident. The settlement agreement allocates $249,000 to Colorado’s Natural Resources Damages Fund and $26,000 to the Water Quality Improvement Fund. According to the AG’s Office, part of the money will go toward a restoration project in the Gore Creek basin.
“While an unfortunate accident, this incident harmed aquatic resources in Gore Creek—one of Colorado’s prized trout fisheries in Eagle County. This settlement compensates the community for those injuries, providing funds that will go directly back to restoring natural resources on portions of Gore Creek downstream of the release,” said Weiser in the release.
The Colorado Natural Resource Damages Trustees is a board within the AG’s Office tasked with representing the interests of the public when state natural resources are harmed due to an oil spill or release of hazardous substances. The board is composed of the Colorado AG, the executive director of CDPHE and the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources or the departments’ delegates. The current board includes Weiser, CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan and DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs. According to the press release, the settlement was a joint effort between the board, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division and state Division of Parks and Wildlife.
“I appreciate Vail Corporation’s willingness to work with the trustees on damages for this accident. Colorado’s fisheries and aquatic resources are some of our state’s most important resources but also can be susceptible to harm where water resources are paramount,” said Gibbs in the press release. “I am hopeful the settlement funds can quickly be put to use to restore Gore Creek and its fisheries and aquatic species for future generations of Coloradans to enjoy.”
“This settlement is the result of collaboration between state agencies and demonstrates our commitment to protecting our natural resources,” said Trisha Oeth, CDPHE’s director of Environmental Health and Protection. “We recognize that Vail Resorts shares our value of protecting the environment we all cherish and rely on. The settlement will support the restoration of natural resources, help the community recover, and protect the environmental health of our state.”