Steamboat groups urge cleanup efforts to prevent runoff from contaminating river |

Steamboat groups urge cleanup efforts to prevent runoff from contaminating river

Nonprofit and city educators are encouraging citizens to get busy with brooms and dust bins this week to pick up trash and dog poop before expected rains and heavy runoff wash it into the Yampa River.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

With temperatures peaking in the 50s and 60s this week and rain predicted for Friday, April 14, officials at Yampatika, Main Street Steamboat and Steamboat Springs Public Works are asking everyone to get busy with brooms and trash bins.

Trash and dog poop piles are “blooming” as the abundant snow piles are rapidly receding this week, and contaminates can easily be washed into gutters, drains, ditches and streams headed for the Yampa River during spring runoff.

“Even though May 20 is the official city and county road cleanup day, Main Street Steamboat encourages everyone to clean up trash this week as the snow piles are receding,” said Lisa Popovich, Main Street executive director.

Scott Slamal, the city’s stormwater specialist, said the key message is that storm drains in Steamboat Springs run to the Yampa River and not through a processing plant. In addition to keeping waste from flowing into storm drains, residents and business employees can help by picking up trash and poop along any waterways and drainages, Slamal said.

“Getting in front of litter pickup and the expected high-water runoff coming this week is important to protect local water where we swim, fish and drink,” said Hallie Cunningham, Yampatika water education coordinator.

Yampatika is a part of the Keep It Clean education coalition on the Western Slope stretching from Aspen to Rifle to Vail and Steamboat. The coalition, with information at, emphasizes that storm drains and rivers lead downstream to someone’s drinking water supply.

Cunningham noted that as plastic trash including forgotten filled dog poop bags are exposed to sunlight, the plastics photodegrade and break into smaller pieces that are much more difficult to clean up.

Yampatika Water Education Coordinator Halie Cunningham found a pile of filled dog poop bags at a park in Hayden where the trash can was buried in snow. “It’s really important that even if there is not access to the trash can at that moment at that park, you should pack your dog poop out and dispose of it at the nearest trash,” Cunningham said.
Halie Cunningham/Courtesy photo

Dog feces is a serious contaminant in the river system that has harmful effects on public health and on the environment, Cunningham said, noting dog poop contains anti-microbial and antibiotic-resistant microbes, depletes oxygen levels, releases ammonia into aquatic habitats, contains nutrients that encourage weed and algae growth, and if left unchecked, causes elevated levels of E. coli in water.

“Nonpoint source pollution is the largest single source of pollution in the country, and especially in Colorado, getting out and cleaning up before heavy runoff is really important to keeping our source water clean,” Cunningham said.

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Steamboat Streets Superintendent David Van Winkle said city crews are driving street sweepers seven days a week this month, including to clean up many tons of scoria, or crushed volcanic rock, used for winter road safety. Compared to last winter, city crews used 956 additional tons of scoria from November to March, Van Winkle said. The department applied 2,234 tons of scoria this winter compared to 1,278 tons the previous winter.

The scoria cleanup program is necessary both for the city’s air quality and water quality control programs, Van Winkle said. Although crews completed 792 hours of street sweeping last winter, due to the winter conditions and more of a constant need for plowing, crews have spent only 146 hours sweeping so far this year.

The city shares the street sweeper schedule with Main Street Steamboat, which in turn shares that with business owners so that employees can pick up trash first and then sweep scoria into the street before the street sweeper passes.

Slamal said downtown Steamboat can be a problematic area for contributing to stormwater pollution, so the city has installed six stormwater treatment vaults, including five installed during the Yampa Street upgrades completed in 2018. The vaults filter water from nearby storm drains, but the system is limited in coverage area and catches 80% of pollutants, Slamal said. Some 20 other stormwater treatment vaults are located on private property on newer developments throughout the city, he said.

Food-grade grease tanks used by restaurants located in the alleyways, including this example near Eighth Street in downtown Steamboat Springs photographed this week, can contribute to stormwater pollution.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The primary pollutant sources include food-grade grease tanks used by restaurants located in the alleyways, trash, oil and grease from streets and parking lots, and wash water from power washing pavement and vehicle washing,” Slamal said.

“The most significant pollutants I see affecting water quality would be sediment from construction activity and oil and grease from parking lots,” Slamal noted. “The worse time of year is spring during runoff when sediment and erosion control measures installed the previous construction season fail or construction sites did not properly prepare in the fall before snow coverage.”

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