Time to realize fire and floods come together
June 20, 2014 • Arizona Daily Sun Editorial
It may seem odd to be obsessing about flooding in the middle of the dry season in sunny Arizona.
And particularly after a decade of drought in northern Arizona.
But there was the Flagstaff City Council last month looking to redesign the seemingly endless Rio de Flag flood control project.
And out in Doney Park, workers are rushing to put the final touches on this year’s flood mitigation structures below the Schultz burn area ahead of the monsoon.
Farther out of town on Mormon Mountain, Forest Service employees are taking the final measurements and putting the finishing touches on an EIS that will support flood-control thinning of the forest. The Dry Lake Hills are also part of the project. (read more...)
Flagstaff hike: Big Leroux Spring
June 11, 2014 • by Mare Czinar • Special to the Arizona Republic
There's big news at Big Leroux Spring. For the first time in more than a century, this important water source at the base of Flagstaff's San Francisco Peaks has been freed from its 1930s-era concrete box. Well, partially, anyway.
Having been diverted and capped for municipal drinking water for years, the spring box was reconfigured in June 2013 to return a portion of the flow to the surface. This is the first step in the restoration of the site's wetland ecosystem and possible reintroduction of native plant and animal species.
Located at the head of Flagstaff's Rio de Flag watercourse, the sister springs of Big and Little Leroux have been a critical resource for Native Americans, explorers and homesteaders. Named for Antoine Leroux, a prolific 19th-century guide who assisted the Sitgreaves Expedition and the journeys of Lt. Edward Beale (of Beale Wagon Road fame), ownership of the springs area has changed hands numerous times. It's currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service and used for firefighter operations and hotshot headquarters.
With the goal of restoring a healthy, self-sustaining riparian environment, the woodlands around the springs have become a research area where ongoing data collection will aid in future conservation plans. Restoration of the site is mostly a volunteer effort. Although water flow varies with the seasons, a visit to the springs pays homage to the work of the Friends of the Rio de Flag, a local advocacy group toiling to preserve the history and hydrology of Flagstaff's watersheds.
Length: 2.6 miles round trip.
Elevation: 7,520-7,600 feet.
Where: From Flagstaff, travel north on U.S. 180 to Snowbowl Road. Turn right and go 1 mile to where Forest Road 516 makes an abrupt right turn with an unmarked dirt road straight ahead. Park along this road in front of a gate, which marks the beginning of the hike. Pass the gate using the wood stairs and hike 0.3 mile to a fork. Go left and continue to a second fork and turn right. At the third fork, go left for Big Leroux or right for Little Leroux.
City-built Rio de Flag has tradeoffs
Arizona Daily Sun • June 5, 2014 • by Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Flagstaff City Council is tired of waiting for the federal government to fund and build the Rio de Flag flood control project.
Staff presented Council with four design and cost alternatives to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s plan for the project Tuesday.
The good news is a city-built project would likely be completed sooner than the Army’s plan.
The bad news is that the local project would not receive federal funding and thus likely cost local taxpayers at least $23 million more than the Army project unless other funding can be obtained. (read more...)
New design concept for Rio de Flag flood control
* Consultant to present to City Council on Tuesday, June 3rd, 6:00 pm at City Hall
* City Staff to present to Friends of the Rio on Thursday, June 5th, 6:00 pm at Montoya Community Center (Thorpe Park)
After more than a decade of frustration trying to get the Rio de Flag flood control project funded by Congress and built by the Army Corp of Engineers, the City of Flagstaff six months ago hired a consultant to determine if there is another way to get flood control done.
Specifically, the consulting company, Michael Baker Jr. Inc, was tasked to develop a Design Concept Report (DCR) for flood control that would 1) develop a design concept at a 15% design level, 2) determine project feasibility, and 3) estimate project cost.
On Tuesday, June 3rd, at 6:00 pm at Flagstaff City Hall, Tim Quillman, Vice President of Michael Baker Jr. Inc. and the project's design engineer, will present the DCR to City Council.
Two nights later, on Thursday, June 5th at 6:00 pm, Mo El-Ali, Capital Improvements Engineer with the City of Flagstaff, will review the DCR at the Friends of the Rio de Flag membership meeting at the Joseph Montoya Community Center in Flagstaff. The public is invited to attend.
From Senator John McCain's office (color emphasis added)
STATEMENT BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON THE WRRDA CONFERENCE AGREEMENT, H.R. 3080
May 22, 2014 Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain today released the following statement on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) conference agreement:
“Mr. President, today the Senate is considering the conference agreement for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA). This bill contains roughly $12.3 billion in additional authorized spending for a variety of water projects that fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works division. This bill supports the construction and maintenance of many of our nation’s dams, levees, harbors, ports, and river ways to name a few.
“For being such an important bill, the American people may wonder why the last time Congress passed a WRDA law was seven years ago in 2007.
“The reason, Mr. President, is that it took Congress seven years to finally respond to public pressure demanding Army Corps reform. As my colleagues know, the Corps has long been criticized by government auditors, taxpayer watchdogs and environmental groups for employing highly questionable economic models and environmental studies to justify its construction projects. A large number of Army Corps projects have been pegged as government boondoggles flush with waste, fraud and abuse due to cost-overruns and cut-corner construction. Perhaps the best known example is the flooding of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina disaster that was traced back to substandard Corps levees, poor planning and gutted coastal wetlands. Years later, an independent study by the American Society of Engineers commissioned by the Corps concluded that, ‘a large portion of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina was caused by... engineering and engineering-policy failures made over many years at almost all levels of responsibility.’
“But as much as the Corps’ bad management practices are to blame, the truth is that we in Congress are not without fault. For decades, Congress has used each WRDA bill to pile on construction project on top of construction project as a way for members to ‘bring home the bacon’ in their states. Layers of these pork projects have created a $60 billion construction backlog, and the Army Corps simply can’t complete them all with their $2 billion annual construction appropriation. Cutting corners and cooking their books is one simply one way they bend to political priorities set by Congress.
“I appreciate that the conference agreement implements some modest Corps reforms, particularly addressing the agency’s $60 billion construction backlog. This bill requires Army Corps to ‘de-authorize’ up to $18 billion in Corps projects, most of which have never received construction funding to begin with. This is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately this bill’s ‘savings' are washed away by the $12 billion in new authorized spending included in this bill. Additionally, the conference agreement makes it impossible to de-authorize $28 billion in projects that were authorized in the 2007 WRDA law – a bill that was vetoed by President Bush for containing too much government waste but was subsequently overridden by Congress.
“This bill also falls short by not giving the Army Corps clear parameters on what projects should be treated as national priorities. The conferees even eliminated a law that requires the Corps to send their most costly and controversial projects to undergo an ‘Independent Peer Review’ process. All of this means there will be less transparency and oversight into the Corps decision-making process. So I’m sorry to say I must question the veracity of ‘reform’ in this conference agreement.
“Mr. President, I worry that ultimately this WRRDA conference agreement means that Army Corps projects of lower-priority will continue to supersede projects that address serious, life-threatening issues across the nation and in my home state of Arizona. This lack of prioritization with Corp projects comes at a real cost to the American taxpayer. Take for example the Rio de Flag Flood Control Project in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Army Corps knows that a single large flood event along the Rio de Flag River could easily wipe out the city’s downtown area and Northern Arizona University, affecting half their population and causing $93 million in economic damage. After undergoing the appropriate feasibility studies, Congress authorized $24 million in 2000 to construct a 1.6-mile flood water channel and a detention basin to redirect the water away from the community. For 14 years, this project – again, just 1.6 miles – has languished partially because of the Corps’ $60 billion construction backlog. The Corps spends less than $3 million a year on Rio de Flag while Congress plays favorites with other projects on their plate. This approach of funding Army Corps projects piecemeal over the years has inflated the total estimated cost of Rio de Flag from $24 million to $101.5 million.
“Rio de Flag is a serious public safety project and yet it’s behind schedule and way over budget. In fact, the only competed portion of the project is a 4,000-foot levee, which is cracked due to shoddy construction by an Army Corps contractor. I’m told that the Army Corps recently ordered the contractor to repair the broken levee, of course at the added expense of the American taxpayer and the City of Flagstaff. Now the project faces more delays because the Army Corps has been slowly dragging out its ‘updated economic analysis’ for Rio De Flag for the past 3 years, leaving the city unnecessarily vulnerable to disaster and causing the project’s price tag to rise even higher.
“Mr. President, I have a longstanding practice of abstaining from legislating projects to WRDA bills out of principle that each project should be prioritized based on national need. But it’s hard to argue that Flagstaff isn’t one of these national priorities, or that the current practice of piling on Army Corps projects isn’t contributing mismanagement across the entire agency. Ultimately, this conference agreement does little to change the Corps’ culture of bad decisions that affect Rio de Flag and similar projects. Congress will not be blameless if a flood event larger than what Flagstaff occasionally sees inundates the city, destroys property, or claims innocent lives.
“Mr. President, I appreciate the need to pass a WRDA bill after seven years, but I’m concerned that this bill is just a new coat of paint on the same broken system. I urge my colleagues to oppose this conference agreement.”
New life to Rio do Flag flood control project
Arizona Daily Sun • May 17, 2014 • by Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
The city of Flagstaff could see additional funds from the federal government to help continue the Rio de Flag flood control project.
The city requested $1.6 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year to fix the Clay Avenue Detention Basin and continue construction on the project.
According to the city manager’s office, the request has made it through the Army Corps’ Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. offices and is on track to be included the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. The act includes funding for several water, flood control and transportation projects across the U.S.
“It looks like WRRDA will be approved by Congress in the next week or two. So at this point things are looking very good,” City Manager Kevin Burke stated in a memo to Council. “We have a long ways to go, but at least we are moving again.”
On top of that, the city may also get $700,000 transfer from a project the Corps was working on in Tucson.
Councilmember Scott Overton said the information is good news. “It’s a positive step in the right direction,” he said. (read more...)
The County has sent out ballots for the City of Flagstaff special election and many residents have received them.
The ballot will ask voters to vote ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ on the following: “Ratification by the Voters of the Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030: Place Matters as the New General Plan for the City of Flagstaff, AZ.”
Voting ‘YES’ would mean that Flagstaff Regional Plan 2030 will become effective immediately and supersede the 2001 Regional Land Use and Transportation Plan.
Voting ‘NO’ would mean Current 2001 Plan stays in effect. In response to a No vote on the Regional Plan, the City will gather feedback to revise proposed Plan and seek adoption and ratification of revised 2030 Plan at a future date.
Voters should have received a publicity pamphlet last week that included an introduction to the Plan, a list of pro and con statements, and a sample of the ballot question. The Plan may still be reviewed at www.FlagstaffMatters.com, at the CD front counter at City Hall, and at both library locations.
Remember to Mail-in or Drop off Your Ballot
All ballots must be received by 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. A dropbox is located at the Coconino County Elections Office, 110 East Cherry Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ.
If you didn’t receive a ballot, you can call the County to request a replacement ballot by May 9, 2014. Information is on the County website at www.coconino.az.gov/elections.
For more information on the Regional Plan call Sara Dechter, AICP, at (928) 213-2631, or contact her via e-mail at sdechter@FlagstaffAz.gov.
Thursday, May 1, 2014 Public Meeting
6:00 pm at the Joseph C. Montoya Community Center
245 N. Thorpe Park Rd., Flagstaff
Water Works Part 5
A Vision for Flagstaff's Water Future
At our March panel discussion on water quality, George "Corky" Kladnik made the case that conservation and recovery of potable water from wastewaters will be necessary if Flagstaff is to have a reliable, safe, long-term supply of fresh water. Corky is a co-author of Water, an Essential Resource, a "White Paper" being prepared for the City and the public by Friends of Flagstaff's Future's Technical Water Committee.
At this meeting Corky and the rest of the water committee will be on hand to describe how their paper addresses issues related to water usage, reclaimed water, conservation, and the steps needed to ensure a future with both adequate water quantity and quality.
Specifically, they are seeking comment from FoRio and F3 members on how their paper addresses issues related to sources of available water, current trends in water consumption, the need for and technologies appropriate to better clean reclaimed water, uses of a tier-cost system to pay for needed improvements, and actions needed today (including conservation) to preserve access to water quantity and quality for future generations.
Also on the program, our NAU intern, Alex Garcia, will present the results of her research on the effectiveness of our outreach efforts.
Thanks to Friends of Flagstaff's Future for once again co-sponsoring this important community presentation and discussion.
Thursday, April 3rd Membership Meeting
6:00 - 7:30 pm, Joseph C. Montoya Community Center, Flagstaff
Stewardship plans for select springs in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests
Kyle Paffett and Abe Springer, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University
Jones Springs in the Upper Beaver Creek watershed. Photo © Tom Bean.
Springs provide unique and essential habitat for plant and animal communities to thrive. Unfortunately, the practice of developing springs for human uses has degraded the natural conditions of many of the springs in the Southwest.
Using a prioritization scheme developed with land and resource managers, NAU's Dr. Abe Springer and graduate student Kyle Paffett assessed 200 springs in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests.
The results of the assessments were analyzed to determine which springs are most in need of increased stewardship. Stewardship plans have been disseminated to the land and resource managers at the forests.
This presentation will highlight examples of stewardship plans for springs within the Rio de Flag watershed.
Congratulations to Kyle on his recent successful defense of his thesis!
Water Workshop in Flagstaff
What: Water Resources Research Center Workshop: Arizona’s Roadmap for Considering Water for Natural Resources in Management and Planning
When: Friday, May 16, 2014. 12:00 pm to 4:15 pm
Where: USGS on Gemini Drive in Flagstaff
The WRRC is developing Arizona’s first ever roadmap for if and when environmental water demands should be considered in statewide water management and planning decisions. This process is being guided by a diverse Steering Committee with representatives from agency, agricultural, environmental, industrial, mining, municipal, tribal, and research interests.
This collective effort is designed to produce a stakeholder driven “Roadmap” for considering water for natural resources in Arizona that will include: (1) concerns and ideas from a diverse array of Arizonans on water for natural resources; (2) lessons learned from previous efforts to consider water for natural resources in management ranging from an entire river to an individual ranch; and (3) recommendations and tools for how Arizonans might consider water for natural resources in their management and planning.
The WRRC invites you to participate and add your voice to this discussion.
A project fact sheet is available here.
Please RSVP learn more about this and other upcoming events from WRRC.
Flagstaff, Arizona • March 6, 2014
McKenzie Jones wins 2013 Tom Moody Award
McKenzie Jones at Picture Canyon / Stephen Root/Phoenix 12 News
City of Flagstaff Sustainability Specialist McKenzie Jones is the winner of the 2013 Tom Moody Award for her role in the purchase and preservation of Picture Canyon and Observatory Mesa as open space.
Bond initiatives for open space acquisition were passed in 2004, but for nearly a decade inflation in land prices and complications at the state level left the city with little hope that it could make good on its promise to voters.
A window of opportunity emerged in 2011 with falling land prices and new leadership at the Arizona State Land Department. Fortunately, the city hired the perfect person to take advantage of it.
Jones quickly demonstrated that she had the skills and energy necessary to navigate productively through historically sensitive relationships. Hitting every mark and taking every setback in stride, she successfully secured a total of $7.9 million in additional grant monies that made possible the purchases of 479 acres at Picture Canyon in 2012 and an extraordinary 2,251 acres on Observatory Mesa in 2013.
Jones’ award commemorates Tom Moody, the co-founder and co-owner of Flagstaff’s Natural Channel Design. Tom was tragically lost to our community in 2009 in a plane crash. His work in stream rehabilitation, stream channel restoration and community planning inspired Friends of the Rio de Flag to honor community members working in, volunteering for, and directing efforts in the fields Tom chose for his life’s work. Friends of the Rio is proud to provide this award in Tom’s memory.
* Thurs, March 6, 6:30 pm at City Hall *
Water Works Part IV
Flagstaff Water Quality Panel
with Kevin Burke, Abe Springer, Cathy Propper, Brad Hill, and Corky Kladnik - moderated by Bryan Bates
For the fourth and final event in the Water Works series, a panel of water experts and local officials will share their knowledge and perspectives on the quality of Flagstaff’s water supply.
The City of Flagstaff is held to federal standards for the quality of its drinking water and monitors for chemicals that are considered hazardous when consumed in large quantities.
Flagstaff’s A-plus “purple pipe” recycled water, which accounts for 20% of the community’s water use, requires less treatment than drinking water. It is used year-round in local manufacturing and is in heavy demand for irrigation during the summer months.
There is less demand for recycled water during the winter, when two-thirds of the discharge from the Rio de Flag Wastewater Treatment Plant flows into the Rio. Some of this water eventually finds its way into groundwater that supplies some of the city's drinking water wells.
Although not required to do so, the city tests its drinking water for unregulated contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and hormones, some of which have been shown to alter growth patterns in amphibians. Small traces of some of these contaminants have been found in wells downstream of the treatment plant.
Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke, who will be on the March 6 panel, in 2012 created an advisory panel specifically charged with looking at the impacts on human health of unregulated contaminants, including those that have been detected in Flagstaff’s downstream wells.
The panel’s interim report, released in 2013, recommended that the city consider additional treatment to its drinking water that would go much further in removing contaminants now found in levels of parts per billion and even parts per trillion.
Also appearing on the March 6 public panel will be:
- Brad Hill, city of Flagstaff Utilities Director, who gave an excellent introduction to the top ic of water quality in his Water Works, Part 3 presentation (see below for link);
- Abe Springer, professor of hydrogeology at NAU, who studies local and regional groundwater flow systems and human impacts on them;
- Cathy Propper, professor of biology at NAU, and an expert in how environmental contaminants may act as endocrine disruptors to affect development and adult physiological function; and
- Corky Kladnik - an expert on water treatment technologies, especially forward and reverse osmosis, and a member of the Friends of Flagstaff’s Future Water Quality Action Team.
The panel discussion will be moderated by Bryan Bates, professor of environmental sciences at Coconino Community College.Many thanks to Friends of Flagstaff's Future for co-sponsoring this important event!
Army Corps of Engineers OKs $1.6 million for Rio de Flag flood control project
Arizona Daily Sun • March 6, 2014 • by Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
The Army Corps of Engineers has included $1.6 million in this year’s work plan to complete repairs on the faulty Clay Avenue Detention Basin in Flagstaff.
The basin is a key part of the Rio de Flag flood control project, which still needs more than $50 million in funding to complete.
Councilmember Scott Overton said he was pleased to hear about the funding.
“We’re thankful for what we can get. It’s obvious that we’re still on their radar,” he said.
The money should be enough to finish the repairs to the basin, Overton said.
“We will have to continue to work on getting the rest of it completed. It’s a challenging project to fund,” he said.
The basin was one of several Rio de Flag items city officials discussed with federal officials and representatives during a trip to Washington, D.C., last week. (read more...)
Give flood control projects flexibility
Arizona Daily Sun Editorial • March 5, 2014
When it comes to flooding in and around Flagstaff, not all flood control is created equal.
That statement has come home to roost in recent weeks as both the city of Flagstaff and Coconino County have tackled in different ways flood threats present and future.
The most pressing is the continuing danger to health and safety posed by runoff from the Schultz fire four years high up on the eastern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.
Then there is the near-term threat to property and drinking water supplies were a similar catastrophic fire to strike the Dry Lake Hills or the Mormon Mountain watersheds.
And in the future, were a so-called “100-year flood” to strike, Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag would not be able to handle the runoff, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to property primarily in the Southside and at NAU. (read more...)
DC delegation returns with hope but no cash
Arizona Daily Sun • March 4, 2014 • by Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
The Flagstaff City Council’s annual trip to Washington, D.C. didn’t net the city any additional money for the Rio de Flag or forest thinning.
But Mayor Jerry Nabours and Scott Overton said they did have some good conversations while they were there and the projects are moving forward. City Manager Kevin Burke and councilmembers Coral Evans and Mark Woodson also made the trip.
“We certainly didn’t come home with any checks, but we did meet with some very high officials in the Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service,” Nabours said. (read more...)
View presentations from Water Works Part I ("Origins), Part II ("Our Water Future"), and Part III ("Water Reuse").
Thursday February 6 Public Meeting
* 7:00 pm at City Hall *
Flagstaff Water Works Part III
with City of Flagstaff Utilities Director Brad Hill
The City of Flagstaff is one of the state's leaders in water reclamation, and the Rio de Flag plays an important role.
Utilities Director Brad Hill will help us understand the history and importance of reclaimed water, how it is used in Flagstaff, how it contributes to our water conservation efforts, and how it provides resiliency in the face of future climate change.
Brad will also explain the history and operations of the City's two wastewater treatment plants along the Rio, how emerging concerns with water quality are being addressed, and the future of reclaimed water use in Flagstaff and around the country.