Category Archives: News

May 2nd – Restoration Projects with the City of Flagstaff

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with Ed Schenk, Stormwater Project Manager

A walk to look at restoration potential at Cheshire Pond

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 from 5:30pm-7:00pm

Meet at the Northwest corner of the Museum of Northern Arizona’s parking lot. Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather of the day.

Wetlands near Cheshire Park, along Rio de Flag, Flagstaff, Arizona

The Cheshire Pond Dam was built in the 1950s as a fishing pond. The dam location was likely selected to take advantage of the natural gorge that drained the Cheshire meadow before the neighborhood was developed. The resulting pond has rarely been managed, most recently by the Friends of the Rio as a wetland restoration on the fringe of the pond. The pond currently fills during monsoon rains and snowmelt but can dry completely in the early summer.

Ed Schenk, with the City’s Stormwater team will provide an overview of past activities at the pond and potential restoration and monitoring options including dredging the core pond to provide perennial surface water, wetlands plantings to increase biodiversity, and citizen science potential to engage the community in local watershed protection initiatives.

Ed Schenk is a project manager with the City of Flagstaff’s Stormwater team. He has lived in Flagstaff for the last 4 years with additional hydrology and geology work at the Museum of Northern Arizona and the National Park Service. Ed was a research scientist with the USGS for the decade before moving to Arizona with river restoration experience in more than 10 states. He has a Master’s from Indiana University and over 30 publications on river, wetlands, and estuary ecosystem function.

We’re Hiring a Watershed Group Coordinator!

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We’re Hiring a Watershed Group Coordinator!

The Friends of the Rio de Flag is hiring a Watershed Group Coordinator who will: 1) lead in the development of a Watershed Group composed of a diversity of community stakeholders, and; 2) write a watershed restoration plan for the Rio de Flag river. In addition, the Coordinator will conduct public outreach and education throughout the watershed planning process to ensure that the watershed restoration plan (“the Plan”) captures the local community’s vision for watershed restoration. The Coordinator will work closely with a facilitation team and other partners to organize and carry out stakeholder interviews, watershed group development, and public meetings. Insights from these interviews and meetings will be used by the Coordinator to write a watershed restoration plan for the Rio de Flag. The Coordinator will augment the plan with reference to relevant reports and planning documents.

This is a part-time position. A full position description is available here.

Those interested in applying should send a resume, cover letter, writing sample, and two references to Chelsea Silva at Please state: Watershed Group Coordinator in the subject line. Application deadline January 31st, 2019. Interviews will take place during February 2019. Position start date: ~ March 1st, 2019.

Qualified individuals with disabilities and those from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply. We provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals upon request.

The Friends of the Rio is a small, nonprofit organization that works to protect, restore, clean up, and improve theRio de Flag stream and its tributaries in order to maximize their beauty, educational, recreational, and natural resource values, including the riparian habitats they provide.

Reflecting on an Internship with Friends of the Rio de Flag

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Reflecting on an Internship with Friends of the Rio de Flag

This is a reflection written by James Archuleta in May 2018 and published on August 21st, 2018. James graduated from Northern Arizona University in summer 2018.

James Archuleta stands outside the Tourist Home, a historic structure in the Southside Neighborhood.

My name is James Archuleta. I am a senior at Northern Arizona University majoring in political science with a minor in psychology. This spring, I worked as an intern with the Friends of the Rio de Flag on their Rio de Flag and Southside Neighborhood project funded by an EPA Environmental Justice Small grant. My internship focused on increasing community awareness about the history of the neighborhood and Rio flowing through it. My main tasks included: 1) building a social media campaign to provide our Facebook followers the chance to learn more about their local community, and; 2) canvassing along with staff from the Community Development section of the City of Flagstaff who are working to update the Southside Neighborhood Plan through resident-driven process and input. This door-to-door outreach allows us to collect information from residents about their experiences with flooding of the Rio de Flag and how they feel this issue should be addressed.

This project is about education, outreach, and most importantly, building relationships with Southside Neighborhood residents in order to better understand their experiences. The Rio de Flag runs through the heart of the Southside Neighborhood (Figure 1). Like all rivers, the Rio de Flag has a floodplain, or area of low-lying ground adjacent to the river that is subject to flooding. Figure 1 shows the delineation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “100-year floodplain” which encompasses a large section of the Southside. The area within a 100-year floodplain has 1 in 100 chance of flooding every year.

Figure 1. Rio de Flag flowing through Southside with FEMA designated 100-year floodplain. Pre-1920s channel shows Rio flowing along railroad alignment.

This is problematic for the residents of the Southside Neighborhood, but it’s more complicated than that. Flooding in the Southside is a matter of environmental justice. Historically, the Southside Neighborhood was a segregated community. In the early 1900s, the Rio was diverted into the neighborhood. The new channel was built with insufficient space to carry small floods let alone a 100-year flood. This history put low income, minority families of the Southside Neighborhood at a disadvantage. Today, those multi-generational families still bear the burden of this diversion of flow.

The residents of the Southside face a multitude of problems related to flooding. The designation of a FEMA 100-year in their neighborhood means that they have an added cost to their home ownership in the form of paying legally-required flood insurance. In addition, if Southside residents want to renovate their homes, they must follow what is known as the “50-50” rule. This FEMA rule means that residents are required to follow FEMA building requirements for any renovation that is equal to or greater than 50% of the value of the structure being renovated. Often times this means “building out of the floodplain” for such renovations, or literally raising the foundation of the structure above the height of the 100-year flood water levels. The thing is, if they don’t renovate, their properties are in the path of the waters if the Rio ever does flood. It’s a catch 22 situation: pay the high costs needed to renovate, or keep paying flood insurance and leave your property susceptible to damage by flooding.

The City of Flagstaff has been trying to address this issue through a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their partnership, known as the Rio de Flag Flood Control Project, began in 1995. While parts of the project have been completed, but project design has yet to be completed, let alone the on-the-ground work needed to protect residents from a 100-year flood. In addition, over 20 years have passed since the Southside residents have been approached for their input on the project design.

The work I carried out with the Friends of the Rio will give Southside residents a chance to share their insights. What do these residents want for the future of their neighborhood and river? What issues are they facing and what opportunities do they perceive?

The burden of flooding ultimately falls on the Southside residents. Their livelihoods and their businesses are those that would be directly affected if a flood were to hit. They are the ones who will directly deal with having to clean up, move, or deal with the destruction of their personal belongings. Their voices need to be heard and collecting their input and engaging them in the process is a step in the right direction to addressing the problem of flooding.

Matt Muchna, the Friends of the Rio’s Education and Outreach Project Manager, illustrated an important point about natural disasters: they illuminate and exacerbate social problems that are already in place before the disaster hits. “Social floods” disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities after a natural flooding disaster strikes. If you have the means and are wealthy, the disaster is tough to deal with, but isn’t anything that can’t be solved with a little time. On the other hand, if you do not have the means, then you end up stranded on a roof top, waiting for help, trying to figure out the stress of how you’re going to get your life back together, paired with the stress of the fact that your life is in danger, and you need supplies and other necessities to stay alive. Flood disasters hold at risk communities back.

For that very reason, finding a solution to potential flooding is important because those pre-disaster inequalities can be rectified; proactive plans can be made. Floods never have to be a problem if the area is properly prepared and managed to handle large water flows without community flooding. Flood planning and prevention matters because it helps everybody out, not just those at risk. It helps keep those inequalities from becoming worse and it allows people focus on the day to day needs that are important. It enables residents to receive the proper payment for their homes and properties, enables renovations, and provides them with a little peace of mind that does not often exist when living in a vulnerable community.

Thank you to James for his dedication to community and eagerness to always keep learning! Best wishes in life’s next journey.

Coconino Voices: Flagstaff’s relationship with floods

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Coconino Voices: Flagstaff’s relationship with floods

Arizona Daily Sun • July 25th, 2018 • Special to the Daily Sun by Matthew Muchna

Since when is too much water been an issue in Arizona? After torrential downpours a week ago caused street closures across Flagstaff and evacuations in Havasupai Falls, flooding has become a forefront issue in northern Arizona once again.

Flooding has been a problem in Flagstaff since its founding in 1888. A massive flood in 1903 sent the wooden boardwalks and bridges of the quickly growing downtown Flagstaff downstream and established a 2- to 3-foot-deep mote at the doorstep of the historic Weatherford Hotel.

In 1993, Flagstaff experienced another flood. This one was categorized as a 25-year flood or a flood with a 1 in 25 chance of occurring in any given year. The 1993 flood created Lake Continental and flooded large sections of Flagstaff.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) often uses 100-year floodplain maps to designate funding for disaster relief. A 100-year flood in Flagstaff’s downtown and Southside Neighborhood is predicted to cause $916 million in damages, not to mention threats to public safety, health, and even life.

The FEMA 100-year floodplain is significant for homeowners because: 1) a 100-year flood threatens property damage and human safety; 2) it restricts building capabilities and renovation projects, and 3) flood insurance premiums are costly and have risen exponentially over the past few decades.

The Flagstaff area experienced 100-year and 1,000-year floods on July 17 and 18 in some parts of town and the surrounding areas. Total costs from flood damage during these storms are yet to be determined.

Focus on Southside

The Rio de Flag’s narrow channel through the Southside neighborhood is not the original path taken by the river, but a human-made channel.

In the early 1900s, the Rio de Flag channel in the Southside was constructed to prevent flooding of (then) new, affluent Brannen Homes built just southeast of downtown. 

Previously, the river flowed through downtown, along the railroad line, and down a much larger channel that is visible just east of Warner’s Nursery.

The human-made Rio channel was rerouted through the heart of the budding Southside community, home to many African-Americans and Latinx peoples who worked for the railroad or at the Lumberyards. Built too shallow and too narrow, the new channel created a flood risk for these residents.

Flooding in Southside became an issue of environmental justice when the Rio was rerouted through the neighborhood because Flagstaff was segregated at that time and the underserved, lower-income residents of the neighborhood became disproportionately prone to the risks of flooding.

This flood risk was recognized federally in 1983 when FEMA declared that much of the Southside and the North campus of Northern Arizona University sat in the 100-year floodplain.

Southside has been known historically for its racially diverse population, lively nightclubs and churches. However, flooding and other issues need to be addressed to enhance the quality of life for Southside residents.

What’s next for Southside?

Recently, city leadership has made updating the Southside Neighborhood Plan a priority. The goal of the plan is to assess and address current issues such as flooding, parking, and affordability and create a sustainable pathway forward for the neighborhood. Ultimately, the plan will be approved by City Council and adopted as policy.

Over the past few months, I worked with the city’s Community Development team to gain resident input for this plan. We went door-to-door to survey over 800 Southside residents and completed 129 surveys. Approximately 52 percent were renters, 24 percent homeowners and the other 24 percent were either landlords, had culture connections to Southside or worked in the neighborhood.

The majority of renters stated that flooding was not a major issue; however, for many homeowners, flooding was a top priority.

This community input will shape a neighborhood plan that represents the Southside’s vision for their neighborhood and addresses the most pressing issues for the residents.

Now is the time to bring the community together to address these changes.

EPA Outreach Coordinator Matt Muchna is with the Friends of the Rio de Flag.

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

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.