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.

Rio de Flag Project Receives Reauthorization Funds of $102.9 Million

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City of Flagstaff • January 3, 2017 • News Release

FLAGSTAFF, AZ – On December 10, 2016, the Rio de Flag Flood Control project received $102 million in reauthorization funds from the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000.)

This new $102.9 million reauthorization for the project was recently sent to the President for his signature. As an authorized project the Rio de Flag construction funds may be received which indicates the project will be completed in the next five to seven years.

A significant flood event would directly affect more than half of Flagstaff’s nearly 70,000 residents and would result in damages to approximately 1,500 structures valued at over $450,000,000. Implementation of the City’s Downtown and Southside Redevelopment Initiative are entirely dependent on the completion of the Rio de Flag Project. In addition to flood damage reduction, other benefits include elimination of mandatory flood insurance and restrictive floodplain management regulations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) feasibility report proposes to contain the 100-year flood event through construction of 1.6 miles of flood control channel improvements, a 72-acre detention basin, property acquisition, utility relocations and three new bridges.


See the original news release here.

Flagstaff Trailheads: Get ready to Make a Difference

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Arizona Daily Sun • October 11, 2016 • Special to the Daily Sun by Jack Welch

They say the eating of crow is the price one (that would be me) pays for the continuous support of the baseball team from their long-ago hometown. In my case, the St Louis Cardinals.

Am I finally over my zeal for the Anheuser-Busch boys of summer? They didn’t even make the playoffs this year. And far worse, finished second to the Chicago Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs! Oh, the despair!! Will my aching heart ever mend? The next thing you know they’ll be brewing Budweiser beer in Brussels. What? The Cardinals aren’t even owned by the Busch family anymore? Arghhhh!

Back to the verbal consumption of the smaller, lesser-beaked, raven-like blackbird. Since moving to Flagstaff I have heckled my friends with known ties to the Windy City Cubbies about the annual collapse of their team. I must admit it’s been a joyful experience. My being right year after year has evolved into a treasured annual event. But now it’s time to consume a humble, but rather fowl, pie. The following is my crow-munching paragraph of capitulation.

A slight tip of my redbird cap to the team that plays home games in Wrigley Field. We devoted Cardinal fans, however, are counting on you to not allow the possible winning of a baseball World Series to become a disagreeable habit. Once every century is enough euphoria for Chicago folks. And, as an ardent Cardinal supporter, all I can say is, “Wait ’til next year!”

Now, the real reason for this column. One of the city’s newest employees is Margaret Twomey. Called Maggie by her many friends, she’s now the volunteer and events coordinator for the Flagstaff Sustainability Department. In that capacity she’ll manage the Community Stewards Program for the FUTS and city parks plus coordinate events like Earth Day, The Flagstaff 15-Minute Makeover and many other such activities.

My friend Maggie is an outdoor person with a bachelor of science degree in recreation, parks and leisure with a sports management emphasis. She’s a hard-working volunteer herself as I learned when she and husband Bill painted the inside of the Arizona Trail/Flagstaff Loop Trail tunnel under Highway 89 at Townsend-Winona Road. Together, they turned a dark underpass into a bright passageway.

Her fun-loving personality is well known and she’s a strong athlete. I’ve seen her ride a bicycle up the steep Forest Avenue hill between Fort Valley Road and Beaver Street and then pedal up the next difficult section between Turquoise and Gemini Drive.

Maggie will be organizing, along with the Natural Channel Design Company and Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, the annual Flagstaff Make a Difference Day on Saturday, October 22nd. They need a huge volunteer force to help in the cleanup and improvement of the wetlands from the I-40 pond westward along the FUTS. Park at the Sam’s Club parking lot (southwest corner) and follow the directional signs down to the work site. The fun starts at 8 a.m.

For more complete information or to volunteer, contact Maggie Twomey at (928) 213 2144 or e-mail

Your help with this project will be much appreciated. I know I’ll be there and we’re counting on your participation. Go, Cubs!

Follow this link to view the original article in the AZ Daily Sun.


BioBlitz draws hundreds to Frances Short Pond

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Arizona Daily Sun • October 1, 2016

Participants collect data at the September 27th BioBlitz at Frances Short Pond. Photo courteous of Tom Bean Photography

Participants collect data at the September 27th BioBlitz at Frances Short Pond. Photo courteous of Tom Bean Photography

On Sept. 27, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, Friends of the Rio de Flag, and multiple other partners organized a Bioblitz at Frances Short Pond.

Stations were set up around the pond that collected information about water quality, aquatic insects, birds, plants and fish. More than 260 students from Marshall Elementary, Flagstaff Junior Academy, and Mount Elden Middle School measured the temperature and dissolved oxygen of the water, used microscopes to identify the aquatic invertebrates they caught, wandered the pond in search of common plants, used binoculars to spot ducks and red-winged blackbirds, fished for rainbow trout, and then pulled together what they learned by constructing a life cycle diagram of an organism of their choice. In the afternoon community members got the same chance to explore this unique ecosystem in their backyard while contributing to the survey data collection.

“The kids and families were super happy to be out conducting citizen science for such a special place in Flagstaff. Watching the binoculars focus in on mallards, coots and blackbirds, eyes grow wide at discovering beetles and bees, and screams of excitement catching their first fish- what a memorable day of science in its simplest form,” said Brenda Strohmeyer, Rocky Mountain Research Station supervisory biological science technician, and event co-organizer.

Valerie Brazzell, whose son Maddox, a 4th grader at Marshall Elementary, participated during the morning school period said “my son came home from school all excited and told me he had a lot of much fun. I decided to check it out too. We participated together in the afternoon session, had a great time, and learned a lot”.

Chelsea Silva, AmeriCorps VISTA watershed stewardship aide with Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff, who was also in charge of the Plant ID station, said that everyone at her station was super engaged and excited to be part of this effort. “I can’t wait for next time” she added.

Moran Henn, Willow Bend’s executive director and one of the event’s co-organizers, concluded that the event was a huge success.

“This was a true multi-partner collaborative effort, held in conjunction with the Flagstaff Festival of Science,” she said. “I can’t thank our volunteers, experts, and helpers enough. They did such a great job and the result is hundreds of happy students, teachers, and community members who got to spend the day outside, learn about their local environment, and contribute to meaningful data collection and open space management.”

Additional event partners included multiple departments from the City of Flagstaff including Sustainability Section Open Space Program and Storm Water, The Museum of Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon Trust, AZ Game and Fish, local illustrator Zack Zdinak, and more. The event was made possible through a generous grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation and the AZ Game and Fish Heritage Grant.

For more Festival of Science activities, visit, and for more information about Willow Bend, visit

U.S. Senate action puts Rio de Flag Flood Control Project back on track

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Arizona Business Daily• September 20, 2016

The U.S, Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act on Sept. 15 that reauthorizes the Rio de Flag Flood Control Project, authorizes funds for tribal wastewater certification, speeds up removal of invasive salt cedar trees, reduces Nogales’ financial burden for a sewage pipeline and speeds up reimbursements to tribes for water quality monitoring after a Gold King Mine spill.

“I am pleased that after eight years, we are finally on track to provide the federal funding needed for the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Rio de Flag flood control project,” U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. “This project, which has languished due to bureaucratic delays, is critical for the city of Flagstaff to mitigate potentially disastrous flood damage that could destroy land and infrastructure and directly impact the local and regional economy. I will continue to monitor the progress of this important project, and look forward to the completion of the Rio de Flag flood control project.” (read more…)


Upcoming Springs Inventory and Assessment workshops in Flagstaff, Arizona

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Springs inventory and assessment workshop, October 13-14, 2016: The Spring Stewardship Institute (SSI) will host a 2-day workshop designed to inform and educate the public, students, government agencies, NGOs, and Tribes about springs inventory and stewardship. Participants will deepen their understanding of springs ecosystems, ecological integrity, natural and cultural resources, stewardship, restoration, monitoring, field data collection, and information management. The workshop consists of classroom presentations and discussions, as well as hands-on field inventory and assessment training each day. For more information visit

Free webinar, September 28th at 9am: SSI will also present the final results of their 2-year project to support provide land managers, researchers, and NGOs with comprehensive information about springs and springs-dependent species in the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Registration for this free webinar can be found here.