Category Archives: News

County ready to tax Flagstaff residents for flood control

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County ready to tax Flagstaff residents for flood control

Arizona Daily Sun • May 15th, 2018 • Emery Cowan

Large trenches filled with logs and small boulders help to collect sediment and slow down water as it rushes down the slopes burned by the 2010 Schultz Fire. About one third of the flood mitigation work was funded by Coconino County’s Flood Control District. Taylor Mahoney/ Arizona Daily Sun

City of Flagstaff residents could see a new addition to their property tax bills as early as this fall, and it won’t be something they or their city council voted for.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a resolution to reverse a longtime interpretation of county ordinance that exempted citizens of Flagstaff, Page and Fredonia from taxation by the county’s flood control district.

What that means is when property tax bills go out in October, the owner of a $300,000 home in Flagstaff could find an additional $55 line item on their property taxes to pay for regional flood control projects.

The same goes for those who own homes, land and businesses in Page and Fredonia.

Coconino County Deputy Director of Public Works, Lucinda Andreani, left and James Guidotti, Coconino County capital projects manager, stand at the foot of one of the county’s flood mitigation projects in the Schultz fire burn area. The county’s flood control district funded about one third of the flood mitigation projects with the rest of the funding coming mostly from federal sources. Taylor Mahoney/ Arizona Daily Sun

Property owners of those three municipalities have been included in the county’s flood control district but exempt from taxation since the mid-1980s, when the district was created. An interpretation of the ordinance that created the district determined that those municipalities, because they each decided manage their own floodplains, could remove themselves from the district for the purpose of taxation, said Lucinda Andreani, interim deputy county manager and director of the public works department, which oversees the district.

But new advice from legal counsel hired by the county is that the flood control district tax should be levied upon all residents of the county, even if they live in cities that have elected to manage their own floodplains and have the ability charge residents additional stormwater fees to do so.

In short, cities and towns don’t have the “opt out” option that the county thought they did, Andreani said. That new interpretation also aligns with a requirement in state law that counties uniformly tax private properties within a jurisdiction, she said.

While the change will mean higher taxes for some, county residents who were paying the flood control district tax will see their bill drop. Andreani explained that the board of supervisors, which acts as the Flood Control District Board of Directors, are unlikely to increase the district’s $2.2 million budget in the short term, so when that total amount is spread out among more taxpayers, each property owner will pay less.

The current tax rate is 40 cents per $100 of assessed property value and is predicted to drop to 18.22 cents per $100 of assessed property value if the district’s $2.2 million budget is not increased.

Judging from assessed values in the county, tax revenues from Flagstaff property owners will make up more than half of the district’s total budget with the change, said Mike Townsend, deputy county manager.

Expanding the number of properties within the district’s tax base also significantly increases the total amount of money it can collect from property owners before hitting the state-mandated cap of 50 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The board still has the option to take advantage of that expanded capacity and increase the flood control district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July, Andreani said. But more likely is that the board will keep the budget the same for this year, spend several months talking with cities and towns about potential changes to the tax rate and what projects it could fund, then increase the flood control district’s budget if needed, she said.

In talking to the cities of Page and Flagstaff and the town of Fredonia, Andreani said they understand the legal dilemma the county faces but are concerned about raising taxes within their jurisdictions.

On the plus side, broadening the district’s tax base provides an opportunity to complete additional flood control projects, she said.

In an email statement, city of Flagstaff spokeswoman Jessica Drum said, “The City of Flagstaff was recently made aware of the County’s proposal related to the Flood Control District. We have raised a number of questions to help gauge the County’s plans for public involvement and the potential impacts on the city’s operations and programs and to property owners within the city’s jurisdictional limits.”

Because it is countywide, the district is charged with funding projects that have regional benefits, rather than city-specific impacts. Recently, that has included hiring a forest restoration director to help speed up large-scale forest thinning projects deemed crucial to preventing catastrophic wildfires and post-fire flooding in the region. District funds are also going toward a floodplain project for Mountain Dell, weed mitigation in the area of the Schultz Fire and the development of a pre-disaster plan for the city of Williams in the event of wildfire and post-fire flooding on Bill Williams Mountain, Andreani said.

In the aftermath of the flooding that followed the Schultz Fire in 2010, about $11.2 million of the $30.1 million spent on flood mitigation came from the county district.

In Flagstaff, taxpayers have spent about $15.5 million on flood mitigation for the Rio de Flag project. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will take on the largest financial burden for the project, has spent about $25.2 million so far of what is estimated to be a $106 million project. The remaining cost to the city is about $30 million.

While the county is “pretty confident” that its move to extend flood control district taxation countywide is legally correct, it’s also hoping that one of the municipalities takes the issue to court and asks for a final determination from a judge, Andreani said. That would provide legal clarification not only for Coconino County but also the state’s 14 other counties, all of which have flood control districts and a similar taxing scheme, she said.

The flood control district’s budget, which directly affects property owners’ tax rates, will go through a public hearing in June when the board of supervisors approves the final county budget.

News article available online at AZ Daily Sun.

Ribbon of Life: Short Film on the Rio de Flag

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Filmmaker Brittain Davis with his filming gear at Foxglen.

The Rio de Flag is the “ribbon of life” that connects people to people, people to nature, and provides a corridor for wildlife through Flagstaff. Friends of the Rio de Flag welcomes you to view our new short film about those who visit and love the Rio de Flag.

Thank you to Brittain Davis for his time and energy in making the Rio de Flag come to life through this film.

Film available online here.

Make a Difference Day brings together Flagstaff residents at Willow Bend

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Volunteers working to restore a native habitat garden at Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, during Make a Difference Day, Oct. 28, 2017, volunteers participate in effort to restore Willow Bend habitat gardens, establish native vegetation on slopes, and clean up trash along the Rio de Flag below gardens at 703 E. Sawmill Road, Flagstaff, Arizona

Last Saturday, October 28th, volunteers gathered at Willow Bend Environmental Education Center for Make a Difference Day. Between restoring Willow Bend habitat gardens, establishing vegetation on the slopes, and cleaning up trash along the Rio de Flag, volunteers gave back to their community in a big way.

Thank you to all those organizations involved in putting this event together including the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section, Friends of Willow Bend Gardens, and Coconino County Parks & Recreation, among others. Check out photos from the event below. And, of course, thank you to the community for coming out and truly making a difference!

Rio de Flag composite channel could alleviate floods, keep aesthetics

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Rio de Flag composite channel could alleviate floods, keep aesthetics

Arizona Daily Sun • September 3rd, 2017 • Corina Vanek

A composite channel that carries some water underground while keeping a visible riverbed above ground could be the solution to flooding issues from the Rio de Flag as well as concerns about the aesthetics of the project.

In a presentation meant to update the public on the flood control project as well as gather ideas for what the public would like to see around the Rio, city project manager James Duval said that while most of the specifics of the project have not changed over the years, citizens now have a chance to weigh in on how they would like the upper portion of the Rio to look.

“I’m happy to see they’re looking at the composite channel,” Rick Miller, a board member of Friends of the Rio de Flag said. “The Friends of the Rio would like to see as much as possible of the natural channel.”

Fellow board member Kathy Flaccus echoed Miller’s sentiment, saying she was glad the city and the Army Corps of Engineers seemed to be listening to what the people wanted to see done with the Rio channel.

“We like seeing the water when it’s running,” Flaccus said. “The Rio is such a wonderful attribute for Flagstaff, it links the entire town.”

Flaccus said earlier plans involved putting all of the water in underground culverts, instead of the composite channels, which was worrisome for her.

“The Rio is too much of an amenity for that,” she said.

Miller said he has been able to track flood control studies for the Rio back to 1972, which were created then as a way to make the decision of what to do to mitigate flooding problems.

Along the upper stem of the river, which runs through downtown Flagstaff, many homes back up nearly to the Rio’s bank. Many of the nearby homes have been purchased by the city, Miller said. The city could use part of the lots for the improved Rio channel and use the remainder for a public amenity, including a FUTS trail similar to the one there now, pocket parks or riparian areas.

According to city calculations, a heavy storm and subsequent flooding could cause nearly $1 billion in damages, with much of the cost coming from an almost complete inundation of Northern Arizona University in the event of a 100-year flood, which means a flood that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

The composite channels are one of several solutions that have been floated throughout the years of the project, but so far, they have been a favorite of many people who are actively involved in preserving the Rio while looking for ways to mitigate flood damage.

So far, the city has invested bout $15.5 million into flood mitigation from the Rio de Flag, Duval said in his presentation. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will take on the largest financial burden for the project, has spent about $25.2 million so far of what is estimated to be a $106 million project. The remaining cost to the city is about $30 million, Duval said in his presentation. The army Corps of Engineers was authorized to spend more than $100 million on the project in 2016, but that money has not yet been allocated.

Once the improvements are completed, the Southside and much of NAU should no longer be in a floodplain. This would eliminate mandatory flood insurance for residents who live in the area and would make it easier and more cost-effective for building or improving buildings in the area.

Miller said the Friends of the Rio have shifted much of their focus to the social justice issues involved with the Rio’s flooding, and said the improvements on the main stem of the Rio, much of which would happen north of Frances Short Pond, could help alleviate the worry for Southside residents.

“We have to retain the current channel in the Southside, but it would only be carrying the local flow,” Miller said. Without the improvement, water that runs down from north of the city limits flows through the Rio and ends up in the Southside, causing heavy flooding in residential areas.

“It’s an environmental justice issue for the Southside,” Flaccus said. “They must have flood insurance and people can’t sell for the full value of their property. It’s very valuable property, near downtown and the university, but what brings the value down is the flood hazard.”

At the meeting, Duval said he plans to come before the city council in November to discuss funding options for the city. City Manager Josh Copley said the options could include a bond question on the 2018 ballot, a specialized fee or a tax.

“It depends on what council will be inclined to send to voters,” Copley said.

The city does not have ongoing funding budgeted for the Rio project, and Copley said the city must continue contributing to the project to pay for a contractor’s services and to keep the Army Corps of Engineers involved.

“As the money has come through, we have been able to piecemeal the project,” Copley said. “Now it’s time to put it all together.”

News article available online at AZ Daily Sun.

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.

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

Flagstaff receives $1M from US for flood control project

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Associated Press • June 5, 2017 • S

(AP) — Flagstaff officials say $1 million provided by the federal government will be used for design work and related preparations for the Rio de Flag flood control project.

Officials say the funding from the Army Corps of Engineers will allow the city to acquire land for the project and proceed with final design and other steps.

According to city officials, Rio de Flag is a “critical infrastructure project” needed to reduce the risk of significant flooding and avoid damage to 1,500 structures.

Officials also say completion of the project would eliminate requirements for flood insurance. The estimated total cost of the project is $90 million, with more than half that amount still unfunded.

To view this article online, please visit the AZ Daily Sun.

The Board of Directors of the Friends of the Rio de Flag will request to hold a stakeholder position in the design of the final flood control project and in review of this design. We will keep members and the public engaged through blog postings on our website, Facebook communications, and email messages (if you would like to receive email notifications, please sign up here).

Please send any questions or comments to Chelsea Silva at

New Rio de Flag Monarch Butterfly Waystation

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Tristan Meriwether and David McKee celebrate Tristan’s completion of a monarch butterfly way station.

Congratulations to Tristan Meriwether on completing his Eagle Scout Service Project! Tristan’s project requirements included planning, developing and implementing a service beneficial to his community. Tristan took on a large scale project of creating a Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

The City of Flagstaff built a large earthen embankment with the material removed from the restoration of Frances Short Pond. This embankment serves as a buffer between the fire department training center and the Rio de Flag. Tristan started out by recruiting fellow scouts, friends and family to first complete extensive grading work to naturalize the earthwork then prepare it for planting. He learned first about invasive weeds and proper techniques for stabilization to prevent erosion. Tristan then worked with the city and local native nurseries to obtain the proper seeds and plants for the waystation. As Tristan learned, this includes a full spectrum of plants that provide breeding habitat as well as fuel for their migration. The Southwest Monarch Study website provided a specialized list adapted for high elevation waystations.

Tristan also learned that native plants can take a long time to become established (often a couple years). The great news was that we saw plenty of starts and the grasses were already coming up and outcompeting much of the invasive weed population and stabilizing the slopes and denuded areas. We are all looking forward to visiting the site after a full year of growth.

Great Job Tristan!

Waystations have been completed in the Verde Valley and at the Flagstaff Arboretum. To learn more about the Monarch Butterfly Waystation project and how you can create one in your community or right at home visit the Southwest Monarch Study.

World Water Day encourages us to ask “why wastewater?”

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Arizona Daily Sun • March 22, 2017 • Special to the Daily Sun by Chelsea Silva

A purple reclaimed wastewater irrigation sign in Flagstaff.

The purple signs indicating use of reclaimed water that are scattered throughout Flagstaff are a familiar sight for the average Arizonan. If you aren’t familiar with the purple pipes and signs don’t worry – as a transplant from Idaho, a state rich in fresh water resources, I had very little experience with reclaimed water prior to moving to Arizona.

But for the sake of this article, let me bring you up to speed: reclaimed, or recycled, water is treated wastewater. In Flagstaff, the Wildcat Hill and Rio de Flag water reclamation plants deliver treated water for irrigation of public spaces, manufacturing, and a variety of other purposes. Reclaimed water accounts for 20% of water delivered to the community.

In addition to the reclaimed water delivered to its customers, Flagstaff discharges 100 gallons per minute of reclaimed water into the Rio de Flag. The flows provided for the stream by this reclaimed water support wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.

Arizonans are accustomed to the idea of reusing wastewater, but this is not the case globally. Worldwide, over 80% of wastewater produced by society flows back into the environment without being treated or reused.

And that’s why this year’s theme for World Water Day asks us to consider, “why wastewater?” This day of action, held every year on March 22nd, is an effort to take on the global water crisis.

But in the arid State of Arizona, reclaimed water use has become necessary to meet our daily water demands. And so, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why wastewater?! Well, out of necessity, of course!” But the global organizers of World Water Day are challenging you and me to think beyond necessity. What can we do as individuals and a community to address decreasing water supplies and growing water demands?

As an individual, you can reduce your freshwater consumption by irrigating with grey water- wastewater that originates from your washer, bathtub, or sink (but not the kitchen sink, dishwasher, or toilet). Additionally, you can sign up for Conserve2Enhance (C2E) to track your water savings and donate the money you save on your water bill to local environmental enhancement projects.

Make sure to check with the City of Flagstaff regarding the specifics of using grey water, as well as to take advantage of City rebates that support high-efficiency toilets, rainwater harvesting, and xeriscaping.

As a community, we can work together to address two uncertainties associated with wastewater. First, we can support further research on the potential health effects of wastewater on humans and the environment. Second, we can encourage further discussion regarding the 20-year agreement between the City of Flagstaff and Arizona Fish and Game which provides in-stream flows to the Rio de Flag. The agreement will end in 2030, and we need to be proactive in opening these discussions. These flows provide important riparian habitat and create a unique amenity for Flagstaff residents.

Why wastewater? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page.

If you value America’s public lands, you need to help save them

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Standard-Examiner • January 25, 2017 • Special to the Standard-Examiner by Jack Troyer

Could we really lose our treasured national forests and public lands?

The short answer is maybe. It will depend upon how much the tens of millions of people who love and use these lands are willing to become involved to save them.

If you enjoy camping, hunting, fishing, skiing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, taking an OHV ride, horseback riding, bird watching, rafting, mountain climbing, and many other outdoor recreation activities without having to face a No Trespassing sign, then you should get involved in efforts to save them.

Very few of you enjoy these activities on private land. You go to the wonderful public lands that every American owns. If you do not oppose the efforts to dispose of our public lands, there certainly is a chance it could happen. It will not happen through the court system, despite the wishes of those who want to keep trying in the face of decades of settled law. But it could happen if Congress changes its mind and decides we don’t need them any more. One bill passed by Congress and signed by the president could do it.

I think President Theodore Roosevelt was right. Our public lands belong to all Americans and should be managed under federal protection. Roosevelt acted to save America’s diminishing natural resources and brought 230 million acres of public land under increased protection as national forests, refuges, parks, and monuments. These public lands are the envy of the world and managed using scientific principles that have become the bedrock of public land management policy. Go in any direction here in Utah and enjoy the fruits of those wise decisions we have enjoyed for well over 100 years.

History shows giving the national forests and public lands to the states would be a step to their eventual sale to the highest bidder. Most of the Western states have land they were given at statehood. In total, Western states have disposed of about 31 million acres of their lands, according to National Wildlife Federation data. Here in Utah, of the 7.5 million acres of state trust land Utah was given upon statehood, Utah manages 3.4 million acres.

Make no mistake about it — the next state budget crisis or $100 million fire suppression bill will bring calls to raise money from a land sale. And there goes your heritage, along with your favorite mountain or lake. Worse yet, for many of you who work in the incredibly large outdoor recreation industry that depends on these lands being available for average Americans, there goes your job.

You might have heard of the recent sale of 172,000 acres of Boise Cascade timberland north of Boise, Idaho. The billionaire Wilks brothers from Texas bought it and immediately closed it to hunting and other recreation. They cancelled leases with Valley County to maintain roads that provided access to snowmobile trails on public land. All of this is their prerogative, of course, because it is now their land. But think for a moment how you would feel if this happened to the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest you see from your front door.

The folks who want to transfer our public lands to state or private ownership won an early victory in the new Congress. On the first day of its new session, the House passed a new rule designed to make it easier to transfer lands to states, local communities, or Indian tribes by assuming these transfers would not cost the federal government anything. Not a single dollar. This eliminates one budgetary barrier to land transfer bills.

So what to do? We in the National Association of Forest Service Retirees believe the answer is to get involved in whatever way you can. If you are an elk hunter, join the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. If you snowmobile, join your local snowmobile association. If you enjoy watching birds, join the National Audubon Society. There is an organization for every outdoor pursuit. Then you can work together with friends and make a difference.

And above all, as an individual, contact all your legislators, go to their town hall meetings, and let them know what you think.

I think the saddest question I might hear someday will come from a child who asks his or her grandparents this question: What was it like when you could just go to the mountains?

Jack Troyer retired as an Intermountain regional forester after a 39-year career with the U.S. Forest Service. He serves as a board member of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees and lives in Ogden.