Uncovering Ancient Landscapes of the Rio de Flag. A walk with Richard Holm, NAU Professor Emeritus

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Thursday July 11, 2019. 6:00 pm

We will meet at the SW corner of the Sams Club parking lot and walk down South Babbitt Drive to the Rio de Flag near the treatment plant. From there we will head downstream past the I-40 wetlands
and continue towards the Little America property. Wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to walk approximately 3 miles

Our walk will explore the ancient landscapes of Flagstaff visible from the FUTS trail along the Rio de Flag. Richard Holm will show how lava flowed down and filled small canyons. Later floods re-excavated the drainages where the trail is now located. He will demonstrate field evidence for reversal of flow.

Richard Holm is the author of the recent publication from the Arizona Geological Survey pictured above. The walk will encompass Trail 2, stops 6-8 described in the publication. This work can be downloaded for free by clicking on the link below.
Hike with geologist Richard Holm, looking at geologic history of the Rio de Flag

New Publication about Geologic History of Flagstaff and the Rio de Flag

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Check out this new trail guide and geologic description of the Rio de Flag.

The Arizona Geological Survey has just released this online publication that explores the origin and geology of the Rio de Flag by Dr. Richard Holm, retired NAU professor of Geology and long time resident of Flagstaff.

It includes maps and guides to walking different reaches of the Rio, as well as a discussion on regional and local geology.
You can download this for free by going to the link below.


Welcome Kelly Burke!

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Welcome Kelly Burke!

We are pleased to introduce you to Kelly Burke, Friends of the Rio de Flag’s new Watershed Group Coordinator!

As Watershed Group Coordinator, Kelly will work with diverse stakeholders and the public to help expand and formalize the Watershed Group and create a watershed plan for the Rio de Flag. The goal of the plan is to outline watershed needs and opportunities, especially as these relate to restoration. This two-year project is being funded by a Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management grant (Phase I).

Kelly brings a wealth of experience and training to the Friends of the Rio. As cofounder and Director of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, a science-based conservation organization in Flagstaff, Kelly has overseen the completion of major restoration projects, including a collaborative riparian restoration plan with the National Park Service for the Glen Canyon Reach of the Colorado River. Her background is in structural geology, hydrology and aqueous geochemistry, fluvial geomorphology, geoarcheology, and springs and riparian restoration, which she combines with experience in coordinating field projects and conservation campaigns, building partnerships, community engagement, nonprofit leadership, and fundraising.

Kelly loves people, water, and wild nature with a common concern for their health, free movement, and full lives. We are thrilled to have Kelly join the organization and excited to have her strong leadership and positive attitude guide us through watershed planning in Flagstaff and the surrounding communities.

Please welcome Kelly!

June 6 walk to the Wildcat Reach with Jack Welch

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Standing water in channel of the Rio de Flag in shallow canyon at Wildcat Reach area, north of Route 66 and east of Test Drive, in east side of Flagstaff, Arizona

Meet at the picture Canyon parking lot at 5:00 pm

Our walk on 6 June will start from the Picture Canyon Parking lot down to the Rio de Flag and then turn right on the FUTS route through the Wildcat Reach. This will be an out and back 2 mile walk.  Jack Welch, well known and beloved leader of walks in the Flagstaff area and advocate for the Rio de Flag. He will take us into an area that he has long thought should be part of the Picture Canyon Open Space. 

This is an excerpt from his July 17, 2017 Arizona Daily Sun column:

The section of the Rio de Flag east of Home Depot at the Flagstaff Mall and north of the railroad tracks has in recent years been called the Wildcat Reach. That segment of our ephemeral little river can be seen from East Route 66 down the slope from the ADOT yard.Countless years of abuse and maltreatment had that unit of the Rio looking more like an industrial dumping ground than a viable feature of a river system. Filled with trash and the coloration left from a long-abandoned paintball court, it seemed to be a permanent blemish on the body of Flagstaff.Not everybody, however, viewed the Wildcat Reach as irredeemable. Some could look past the highly damaged landscape and see an important city resource, a vital link into Picture Canyon and the possibility of a sustainable wetland.In 2008 the Flagstaff Stream Team did a survey and categorized the Wildcat Reach as one of the city locations most in need of restoration. Led by David McKee at a Make a Difference Day in 2011, a large group of citizen volunteers removed 8.2 tons of debris from the Wildcat Reach, including refrigerators, car parts and huge chunks of concrete.The unsightly paintball battlefield was completely eradicated. That space alone entailed the removal of 67 truck tires, many discarded couches and a dumpster full of invasive weeds.The Wildcat Reach of the Rio de Flag is located between East Route 66 and the Flagstaff El Paso Road. The section near East Route 66 is state trust land, then comes a segment of city owned property. The Coconino County parcel starts where the city land ends and follows a section of already constructed county trail to an open gate. From that point to the Flagstaff El Paso Road is city-owned land.Confused? Don’t be, because the county recently installed the easily identified section of trail between the two undeveloped pieces of city property and the State Trust Land still to be purchased. Once completed, the FUTS will connect East Route 66 through Wildcat Reach into the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve.Won’t it be wonderful when the FUTS is connected all the way through the Wildcat Reach and we can traverse Picture Canyon on a completed urban trail? And why not combine the Wildcat Reach and Picture Canyon into one city/county sponsored preserve?

Join us on Thursday, June 6 to see the changes, hopes and plans for the future of the Wildcat Reach.

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 deflagrio@gmail.com. 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.