The Friends of the Rio de Flag is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose goal is to protect, restore, clean up and improve the Rio de Flag and its tributaries to maximize their beauty, educational, recreational, and natural resource values, including the riparian habitats they provide.

Where is the Rio de Flag anyway? Click here to see a 3D image of the Rio watershed.

Thank you to our volunteers!

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A big thanks to all of the hard-working volunteers who came out to cleanup and pull weeds along the Rio de Flag on Sunday, September 3rd as part of Colorado River Days! This motivated group of 10 people picked up 5 bags of trash and 1 bag of recycling along a half-mile stretch of watershed including the Rio de Flag and one of its tributaries, Switzer Canyon Wash.

Continue celebrating Colorado River Days with more interesting events through September 15th at:

Rio de Flag Community Weed Pull and Cleanup, Sept. 3, 2017, Volunteers picking up trash along the channel of Switzer Wash near confluence with Rio de Flag, Flagstaff, Arizona

September 7th: Green Infrastructure in Flagstaff with Kieran Sikdar

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Green infrastructure demonstration site at Ponderosa Pine High.

Public Meeting: Flagstaff Green Stormwater Infrastructure Watershed Planning and Design Grant
Thursday, September 7th at 5:30pm

Kieran Sikdar, Stormwater Engineering Director, Watershed Management Group

Montoya Community Center,
245 N Thorpe Rd

Watershed Management Group (WMG) is collaborating with the City of Flagstaff to develop an action plan for Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Join us on Thursday, September 7th at 5:30 as we hear from WMG’s Stormwater Engineering Director Kieran Sikdar on the scope and goals of the grant as well as the current progress.

Kieran is passionate about creating prosperous communities by celebrating water in our landscapes. Kieran combines his experience as a Civil Engineer (MS), Certified Floodplain Manager, and Certified Water Harvesting Practitioner with over 10 years of experience in cost benefit analysis, green infrastructure/low impact development design, watershed restoration, and permaculture design.

We look forward to seeing you on September 7th!

Attend Listening Session on Tuesday, August 22nd

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Listening Session 

City of Flagstaff Community Development with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Tuesday, August 22nd, 4-7pm

Council Conference Room, City Hall

In June, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) received $1M in work plan funding to complete the design of the Rio de Flag Flood Control Project.  It is anticipated that Tetra Tech, a California based private design firm retained by the USACE, will take the existing 90% plans and complete the design to the 100% level.

Figure 1. Simple concept drawing for the Composite Channel portion of the Rio de Flag Food Control Project Design. Source: City of Flagstaff

In order to facilitate this project design completion, the City of Flagstaff Community Development section invites the public to attend a Listening Session on Tuesday, August, 22nd from 4-7pm. This Listening Session will allow City staff to update Flagstaff residents on the current state and future timeline for the Rio de Flag Flood Control project. Additionally, residents will have the chance to ask questions about the project and provide input on the composite channel portion of the project design (see Figure 1).

This meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 22nd from     4-7pm at City Hall in the Council Conference Room (211 W Aspen Ave.). Please come prepared with any questions you might have about this project or the project timeline.

September 3rd: Rio de Flag Community Weed Pull and Cleanup

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Rio de Flag Community Weed Pull Cleanup

Sunday, September 3rd

8-11:00 AM

Rio de Flag flowing near Foxglenn Park, after heavy summer rains.

The Rio de Flag is Flagstaff’s river. Like many rivers and streams in the Southwest, “the Rio” appears as a dry wash for most of the year. But when winter storms roll through Flag, and monsoon seasons pick up, the Rio flows through town and makes its way to San Francisco Wash, a tributary to the Little Colorado River.

In celebration of Colorado River Days, the Friends of the Rio de Flag will host a community Rio cleanup upstream of Foxglenn Park on Sunday, September 3rd from 8-11am. Meet at the southern end of 4th Street (use this map to guide you). Parking available in the dirt lot.

Contact Chelsea Silva at or (928) 213-2152 to RSVP.

Location: Rio at Foxglen (meet at dirt parking lot at the southern end of 4th Street; directions available on this Google Map)

Notes: Please dress for weather. Long pants and close-toed shoes recommended. Bring a water bottle. Gloves, trash bags, and trash grabbers will be available for use. Water, coffee, and light breakfast provided.

Thank You Paul and Friends of the Rio!

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Forty two friends of the Rio gathered Thursday evening for an informative hike with Paul Beier, Regent’s Professor of Conservation Biology at Northern Arizona University. Paul guided hikers along the Rio de Flag in Sinclair Canyon, a section of the Rio that benefits from reclaimed water discharged on site which provides daily instream flows. This well-vegetated area is important site for wildlife and recreationists alike.

Paul Beier explains the benefits of reclaimed water for wildlife to Friends of the Rio on August 4th, 2017.

During his tour, Paul described  the potential for moving the discharge point for reclaimed water that is released into the I-40 wetlands in Sinclair Canyon. Moving this discharge point upstream about a mile could create a perennial section of the Rio de Flag that would be an asset for Flagstaff. Perennial streams offer ecological benefits as well as social and economic benefits.

Map copied from a handout provided during the hike.

A few issues need to be addressed before this project could move forward. First, a permit holder would be required to record daily flows and sample weekly for chlorine. The City of Flagstaff could hold the permit, but this would increase the project cost tenfold or more. Selecting the most appropriate permit holder will be an important first step.

Second, a desired flow would need to be determined. The City of Flagstaff and Arizona Game and Fish currently have an agreement to release 100 gallons per minute (gpm) into the Rio de Flag at three sites (including the one at the I-40 Wetlands) to support instream flows and habitat. Would moving this discharge point require additional gallons of water released?

Finally, the engineering design would need to be selected. The project might be able to utilize an existing reclaimed water line at Lone Tree Road, but this would limit the amount of water delivered to the new discharge point to just 100 gallons per minute. Another option would be to install a new pipe to deliver the water.

Paul will continue to explore the possibility of moving this project forward with his next step being the crafting of a proposal that addressed the motivations of the project as well as the issues described above. Follow this link to view a handout from Paul that summarizes this project.

We would like to send a big thank you to Paul for leading this interesting hike, and another thank you to all of those folks who came out to learn from Paul. We look forward to seeing you next time along the Rio!

Sampling for E. coli in our Watershed

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E(ek!) Coli Sampling for the Safety of Humans and the Environment

Guest blog post to Flagstaff STEM City by Chelsea Silva, VISTA Member for the City Sustainability Department and the Friends of the Rio de Flag

Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that can either exist as independent organisms or depend on another organism to live. E. coli bacteria are found in the environment (soil and vegetation) and in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. That’s right, fecal = relating to feces = poop!

E. coli image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (e.g. pathogens) could be in the water system. Only particular strains of E. coli cause serious illness, and people usually contact these strains (especially strain 0157:H7) through consuming undercooked meats such as hamburger. Disease symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and sometimes jaundice, plus headache and fatigue.

Safeguarding against E. coli is part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) mission to protect and enhance public health and the environment. The ADEQ conducts routine E. coli sampling throughout the state in order to reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms associated with sewage or animal wastes.

Meghan Smart (ADEQ) illustrates the use of the E.coli processor to Jake, Chelsea, and Oren

On June 28th, ADEQ staff trained staff and volunteers with Natural Channel Designs, Inc. and the Friends of the Rio de Flag on E. coli sampling. Trainees learned how to properly collect a water sample, how to process the sample using a handy “Processing Guide”, and how to record the data once processing is complete. Sampling in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas will provide the ADEQ with the data needed to protect our drinking water supplies.

The Processing Guide leads trainees through the E. coli testing procedure

Below show the initial and the final stage of processing the E. coli. After the sample incubates for 12 hours, you look at the large and small squares on the sample and count the ones that fluoresce under a black light.You then use a Most Probable Number (MPN) table to calculate the MPN of E. coli in the sample (you count the # large squares fluorescing in you sample and find this number on the X axis and do the same with the number of small squares fluorescing and find it on the Y axis to calculate the MPN of bacteria in the sample). The picture here shows that the sample contains bacteria, but not at a concerning level.


Initial water sample before processing

Sample under black light after processing

The Friends of the Rio de Flag is excited to partner with ADEQ and Natural Channel Designs, Inc. to engage citizen scientists in E. coli sampling. In the coming months, the Friends of the Rio will create a sampling plan with ADEQ to best fit the needs of our watershed. Afterwards, the Friends of the Rio will recruit volunteers to collect water samples throughout town. This will give us a better idea of water quality in our community.

Thank you to Meghan and Jake with the ADEQ for training us on E. coli sampling, and another thank you to Natural Channel Designs, Inc. for hosting the E. coli sample training day.

From L to R: Chris Tressler, Civil Engineer and Geomorphologist, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Mark Wirtanen, Biologist and Engineering Technician, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Oren Thomas, Conservation Projects Manager, Prescott Creeks; Jake Fleishman, Civil Engineering In-Training, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Chelsea Silva, STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Division; Meghan Smart, Hydrologist, ADEQ; and Jake Breedlove, Grant & Watershed Coordinator, ADEQ

August 3rd: Guided Hike at Sinclair Canyon

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Subsiding flood makes its way down the Rio de Flag channel in Sinclair Canyon. Photos courteous of Paul Beier.

One of the most beautiful stretches of the Rio de Flag flows through Sinclair Canyon. On Thursday, August 3rd we will enjoy this section which includes the I-40 wetlands created by our reclaimed water. Our guest guide, Dr. Paul Beier, will point out plants and birds that don’t occur in Flagstaff except in Sinclair Canyon, and restoration projects co-sponsored by Friends of the Rio (FoRio).

Hikers enjoying a sunny afternoon along the FUTS.

We will also discuss a proposal to use reclaimed water to re-water 1.2 miles of the Sinclair Canyon, creating a perennial stream along the prettiest mile of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System. City staff are receptive, and are discussing this idea with FoRio members.

Paul Beier is a Regents’ Professor of Conservation Biology at NAU, and a leading expert on wildlife corridors and cougars. A long-time Friend of the Rio, Paul raised 3 daughters in Flagstaff, and has lived on Sinclair Canyon for 11 years. He loves this mile of canyon, and will share that love with you.

We look forward to seeing you next week for a great hike! Meet at 5:30pm at the southwest corner of the Sam’s Club parking lot.

Saturday, July 15th: Sinclair Wash Community Cleanup

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Views along the Flagstaff Urban Trail System along Rio de Flag below Willow Bend, Flagstaff, Arizona

Saturday, July 15th


Sinclair Wash at Willow Bend

Join us for this collaborative cleanup of Sinclair Wash with FunTown Circus Camp! We will meet at Willow Bend Environmental Education Center (703 E Sawmill Rd) at 9am. Please park at the Police Station just down the street as Willow Bend has limited parking.

Trash grabbers, bags, and gloves provided. Please wear close-toed shoes and dress for weather.

We look forward to cleaning up this section of the Rio that needs some love. Thank you to the organizers and participants of FunTown Circus Camp for inviting Friends of the Rio to work together on this project!

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