Water Services News

The Effects of Fire on Water in Flagstaff

August 2, 2019

Last month, Flagstaff experienced two significant wildfires – the Newman Fire and the Museum Fire. While fire events surrounding monsoon season may not be unusual, both fires can have a direct impact on water in Flagstaff long after the last embers are extinguished.

Newman Fire: Protecting Lake Mary Watershed                         On July 11, a lightning strike three miles south of Upper Lake Mary started the Newman Fire. Extending into Newman Canyon, this area was slated for thinning and brush removal over the coming year through Four-Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Plan (FWPP). Newman Canyon is the largest, single tributary feeding into Lake Mary. Considerable collaborations occurred between fire managers and water operations staff to minimize the potential effects of ash and debris flowing into Lake Mary. Closely monitoring its growth, fire crews performed back burns to contain the fire area as much as possible. This slow, low density fire minimized the negative effect fire has on soils and subsequent erosion. Aerial ignition operations employed on July 17th, allowed fire crews to continue monitoring the fire’s perimeter, keeping it within the containment zone. 

Another major consideration in managing the fire was protecting essential water production infrastructure and equipment. Flagstaff Water Services operates several water wells in that area, and had placed monitoring equipment, such as rain gauges and cameras, in key locations in Newman Canyon. Fire crews proactively protected the equipment with fireproof coverings and considered equipment locations into the fire burn management plan. When full containment occurred in late July, nearly 5,000 acres had burned, with no structural damage or injuries.

For Water Services staff, the hazards don’t end when the embers die down. The Newman Fire has the potential to impact water quality in Upper Lake Mary, due to ash and debris inflow from intense monsoon events.  Water quality sensors in the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system can alert the Lake Mary Water Treatment Plant of excess particulates (turbidity conditions) in Lake Mary, as well as monitoring drainage flows coming down Newman Canyon. The alarm system allows staff time to take preventive measures, turning on other water supplies should Lake Mary’s turbidity exceed the maximum levels.  Flagstaff’s average summer water demand is between 8 and 12 million gallons a day, 28% of which is drawn from Upper Lake Mary. Should Lake Mary’s tap need to be shut off, Flagstaff’s water supply would be affected.

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What YOU Can Do:

  • Check your property easements for access and free-flow in drainages. Drainages filled with trash can cause flooding to your neighborhood and is the property-owner’s responsibility.
  • Sign up for emergency notifications at coconino.az.gov/ready
  • If your home is flood impacted, call 928-213-2990. Call 9-1-1 for flood EMERGENCIES only.
  • To protect from flood damage, place sandbags around the perimeter of homes and businesses. You can obtain sandbags at these locations:
  • Aztec Street near Frances Short Pond
  • The east and west ends of East Elder Drive in Siler Homes
  • 1701 Ponderosa Parkway, past Fire Station No. 2 on the right.  

The sandbag filling area is not regularly manned. Residents should bring shovels to fill sandbags, if pre-made bags are not available. Sandbags should be placed within one to two feet of your home or structure. Do not surround your entire property with sandbags, to avoid negatively impacting your neighbor’s property.

  • You can view forecasts, watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service for northern Arizona at www.wrh.noaa.gov/fgz/ and know the warning signals:
  • Flood Watch: Be prepared
  • Flood Warning: Take action. Move to higher ground. Never drive through flooded streets.
  • Enable emergency alerts your smartphone for National Weather Service notifications. Click on Extreme Threats and Severe Threats under Settings
  • Follow rainfall and streamflow in the City  in real-time through a series of radio-telemetered gauges at: www.flagstaff.az.gov/raingauges.
  • Purchase flood insurance to protect your home if you are in an impacted area under threat from the Museum Fire scar and potential flooding debris. You can find more information at: www.floodsmart.gov or by contacting your insurance agent.
  • Be Water Aware. It is particularly important to be aware of your water usage during this time. With precious water resources at risk, all Flagstaff residents should conserve as much as possible.
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Museum Fire: Post-Fire Flood Mitigation                                   The Museum Fire began on Sunday, July 21st in the Dry Lake Hills area, just north of town. As many residents are already aware, areas in the Dry Lake Hills have been closed due to forest thinning operations under the FWPP management plan since Fall 2018. The project includes mechanical and hand-thinning, slash removal, clean up, and helicopter logging. The thinning effects, although not completed when the fire started, did much to mitigate the severity of the burn. Only 12% of the area burned at high severity, while 60% burned at low-to-very low severity of the 1,962-acre fire perimeter. Helicopters drew water from the North Reservoir Filtration Plant as part of the suppression efforts. The Inner Basin Pipeline delivers over a million gallons of water per day during summer months. The Inner Basin water supply was diverted from the public water system to the North Reservoir to support firefighting efforts.

While no structures were damaged during the Museum Fire, impacts to the watershed are likely to happen in coming years that the Flagstaff community should be aware of. Post-fire flooding is a serious threat. Water Services is just one of many agencies and city divisions, along with an army of volunteers, who are working diligently to mitigate the impacts. We ask you, the public, to do your part in managing the effects of flood events in your neighborhood.

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Be Safety-wise:

  • Keep in mind that streets flood quickly. A car can float in as little as one foot of water, so do not attempt to cross flooded areas and respect all traffic barricades.
  • Do not walk through flowing water. A current of just six inches of water can sweep people off their feet.
  • In the event of a flood, seek high ground. Shelter in place, where possible.
  • Know where your children are at all times, and do not let them play near channels, creeks or streams when water is rising.

Together, we can help ourselves and our community protect our environment, property and water supply.

     

Emergency Addressed - Disaster Averted

"Rag" Ball Causes Digester Pipe Failure

May 30, 2019

Wildcat Hill Water Reclamation Plant [WHWRP] staff responded to an emergency alarm at 1 am on Saturday, May 4. On-call personnel found a pipe separated at the Digester stage of the plant. Digesters break down solids separated from the wastewater through a biological process, creating potentially hazardous gases as a byproduct. In addition to releasing 30,000 gallons of partially-digested sludge, deadly hydrogen sulfide gas was released into the hallways. Staff continually use monitors to detect the presence of lethal gases, and in this case, the monitors alarmed a warning. Staff donned SCBA’s (portable air tanks) and began the initial repairs. A quick response was crucial, as the methane gas also being released had the potential to cause an explosion. 

Twelve hours later, the last of the nasty sludge had been squeegeed from the tunnels, a replacement valve was retrieved from Phoenix and installed, and the disinfection process had begun. A potential disaster was averted. The source of the problem? A “rag” ball jammed inside a pipe; the back pressure created by the blockage caused the piping to separate and leak.

How bad could it have been? As other utilities have discovered, it can result in an explosion destroying the facility, worker injury and even death. The cost to mitigate a disaster like this is hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more. And it’s all created by habitual dumping of rags, “flushable” napkins, towels or feminine hygiene products down the drain. These items can cause severe complications throughout the City sewer lines and at our wastewater treatment facilities.

Who pays for the remediation costs? We do, through increased utility rates. The City spends thousands of dollars each year, filtering out debris that could potentially damage our system.

Is it preventable? Absolutely! We'll learn from this incident to train staff, upgrade the gas detection system and increase frequency of valve inspections to remove any blockages. We also have bar screen upgrades and material grinders in the capital plan for 2020. 

What can you do to help? Be Water AwareOur water is constantly recycled; what we put down the drain matters! To find out more information about what should not go down our drains, click here.

We diverted a possible disaster at Wildcat Hill, largely through regular safety training and employing “best practices”. We’ll learn from this incident to train staff, increase frequency of valve inspections, and keep emergency spare parts on site. The wastewater treatment staff’s response to this emergency speaks volumes about their dedication to the job on behalf of our community. Way to go, TEAM FLAGSTAFF!

1) Sludge fills the Digester
3) Digester explosion - Chicago Tribune, August 2018
4) Paul and Matt covered in sludge
     

We Didn't Forget About the Recycled Water Survey! 

Here is a brief summary of the results while we are finishing the report.

May 30, 2019

Recycled Water Survey Results
     

Honoring National Groundwater Awareness Week:
A Tribute to Flagstaff Area Well Drillers & Scientists



March 13, 2019



To celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week, the Flagstaff community gathered at the Gopher Hole Pub on Monday, March 11 to hear stories about the successes and perils of developing groundwater from the C-Aquifer, as told by legendary well drillers and scientists. The event was organized and facilitated by Flagstaff’s Water Resources Manager, Erin Young, and co-hosted with the Flagstaff Chapter of the Arizona Hydrological Society. The forum raised awareness on the strides that water well drillers and groundwater scientists made by risking their reputations in pursuit of reliable community water supplies. Flagstaff and surrounding communities would not be what they are today if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of these individuals. Errol Montgomery, Don Perry, Don Bills, Gary Small, and Klaudia Ness shared their experiences and brought history to life with nearly 50 people in attendance. Read information on each speaker here.

Speakers

Errol Montgomery
Don Perry
Don Bills
Gary Small
Klaudia Ness

Errol Montgomery, Retired Hydrologist & Consultant to City on Lake Mary Wellfield Development & Sustainability

Don Perry, Retired City Water Production Maintenance Supervisor & Fourth Generation Well Driller

Don Bills, Retired U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologist & Lead Author of USGS Report on the Regional Aquifer below Flagstaff and Surrounding Areas

Gary Small, Hydrologist & Consultant to City on Largest Production Well at 1,200 gallons per minute

Klaudia Ness, Manager, Bellemont Water Company

     

Recent Precipitation Causes Spillover at Lake Mary



March 11, 2019


February’s storms brought more than just icy roads and muddy trails to Flagstaff. It’s great news for our water supply.  Upper Lake Mary began spilling over the dam on March 8, and our water production staff are capitalizing on this great resource. To give a comparison, the lake was 50% full this time, last year, with surface water production at 30% of total consumption. We are currently running at about 40% surface water production, with plans for additional percentage production and 24-hour shifts later this spring; the first time operating around the clock since 2011. At the end of 2018, Upper Lake Mary was about 21% full. On February 3, the Lake was 25% full, and reached 100% on March 8.  That’s a significant inflow in one month’s time!20190311_095844

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By the numbers, we produced 3.75 million gallons the second week of January 2019, compared to 16.25 million gallons last week. Why is this important? The high lake levels reduce the demand for groundwater, saving our aquifers for drier times. We’re monitoring our aquifer levels, as well. While this wet winter may cause problems on the roads, it’s a gift we’ll happily use to the benefit of our Flagstaff residents.

See a video clip of the spillover here.



     

Wet Well Inspection at Rio Water Reclamation Plant

March 7, 2019

You don’t have to be a firefighter to descend into deep, confined spaces! Water Services multi-skilled workers are often required to go above and beyond their typical duties to perform maintenance. Such was the case last week, at the Rio Water Reclamation Plant, where an influent pump problem required diverting flows to the Rio WRP, while a staff member was lowered 30 feet down into the bottom of a wet well. 

This area had never been inspected in the plant’s 26-year history, requiring ten days of careful preparation to identify potential hazards and repair needs, such as trapped gasses and equipment failure. The Fire Department assisted with the double harness setup, and remained on standby, during the wet well entry.

It turned out, the needed repairs were able to be performed outside the wet well. While the conditional inspection was helpful, it serves as a reminder to incorporate safe access in all of our wet wells and vault designs for the future.

Wet well with caption

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Finalized Enforcement Response Plan

February 4, 2019

TO: City of Flagstaff Industrial Pretreatment Customers, Stormwater Customers, Cross Connection Customers

FROM: Steve Camp, Regulatory Compliance Manager                            

The City of Flagstaff Water Services has adopted the Enforcement Response Plan (ERP) for the cross-connection control, stormwater, and industrial pretreatment programs. The ERP contains detailed procedures indicating how Flagstaff Water Services will investigate and respond to instances of noncompliance in these three programs.

Flagstaff Water Services considers criteria such as significance, severity, duration of a violation and the good faith of the operator when determining enforcement action. To view the Pretreatment Warning Letter, Click Here.

Please contact Steve Camp at (928) 213-2475 or scamp@flagstaffaz.gov if you have any questions regarding the Enforcement Response Plan or the subsequent processes involved. 

To view the Draft ERP, visit our 2018 Archive.

                                                                                                       

     

Program of the Year!

July 30, 2018

On July 23, Flagstaff Water Services Reclaimed Water Program received the Program of the Year Award at the WateReuse AZ Annual Symposium!        

The Program was recognized for its diverse methods of using reclaimed water to enhance Flagstaff’s quality of life, protect its future supplies, and make good use of every drop. Currently, water reclamation offsets Flagstaff’s water consumption by 20 percent.

The WateReuse Association, founded in 1990, is a national not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to promoting sustainable culture through water recycling.  The Association circulates accurate information about reclaimed water and advocates legislation for increased water reuse options.  WateReuse AZ brings together a wide variety of water professionals to support the development of reclamation and advanced treatment endeavors in our state.

Water Services Director Brad Hill accepting the award

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Our Reclaimed Water Team at the Symposium

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Picture Canyon Waterfall

Picture Canyon Retouched

This award showcases the many ways reclaimed water enhanced recreational, economic, and sustainability needs in Flagstaff in 2018:          

  • The Bushmaster Park Pump Station was constructed to provide a higher volume of reclaimed water to the area and accommodate future demands.                                                           
  • Frances Short Pond, part of the Rio de Flag stormwater system, is regularly topped off with grade A+ reclaimed water.  The Pond received a new aerator this this year to provide balance for its fish and plant life.                                                                                                                   
  • Reclaimed water also sustains Picture Canyon’s rich ecosystem as it travels through the Rio de Flag. Flagstaff consistently releases grade A+ water into the Rio to benefit the local environment and replenish our aquifers.                                                                                                
  • Reclaimed water is used throughout the summer on our parks, school grounds, golf courses, public landscapes, and on the NAU campus.  In winter, reclaimed water customers like Arizona Snowbowl thrive and bring revenue into the community.  In early 2018, amid extraordinary drought, Snowbowl reported its fifth-best season on record.  Snowbowl has been utilizing reclaimed water for its snowmaking since 2013.

The City of Flagstaff is committed to the responsible and safe use of reclaimed water. In response to public concern, a commission was formed in 2012 to investigate Compounds of Emerging Concern (CECs).  This five-year study, completed in 2018, concluded that “there were no data to suggest that the continued use of reclaimed water provides undue risk to human health.”  This determination allowed for the City to move forward to the next step – an Advanced Treatment Feasibility Study – reviewing the potential costs, benefits, and new infrastructure associated with Potable Reuse for Flagstaff’s future.

As a leader for emerging water reuse technologies, our Reclaimed Water Program is providing the community with safe, environmentally sustainable water, positioning us to meet all current and future water needs for our community. 

     

Filling Wildlife Troughs at Red Gap Ranch's Cedar Well

July 5, 2018

Cedar Well Holding Tank

This photo represents an annual trip by Water Production staff to five test-wells at Red Gap Ranch. During acute drought years like this one, even perennial watering holes and streams can vanish, leaving our wildlife population in dire straits.  To address this problem, open stock troughs at each site are regularly filled to provide water for range animals through the summer.   

When the 8,500-acre Ranch was purchased in in 2005 as a source for Flagstaff’s future water needs, the City partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to install these watering troughs, linked to 7,000-gallon holding tanks.  The troughs benefit indigenous wildlife– most notably pronghorn and feral horses – which regularly move through the property.  Ensuring that visiting animals will never leave thirsty is a small, long-term effort to support the environment while securing a reliable water supply for Flagstaff.

     

Stormwater Press Release

June 26, 2018

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Monsoon Awareness and Flooding 

The monsoon is upon us and the City of Flagstaff Stormwater Management Section would like to make the public aware of precautions and services provided by the City.

  • Streets flood quickly! A car can float in as little as a foot of water. Do not attempt to cross flooded areas. Respect all traffic barricades.
  • Please call 911 to report a flooding emergency.
  • For street or right-of-way flooding concerns, please call Public Works 213-2100.
  • If you have private property flooding concerns, the Stormwater Management Section will investigate and may be able to help. Please contact Christopher Palmer at 213-2474.
  • Please do not leave trash cans, trash, or debris in any area subject to flooding. Items will float in floodwaters and clog storm drains and stream channels.
  • Sandbags can be obtained on Aztec Street near Frances Short Pond. The sandbag filling area is not manned and residents will need to bring shovels to fill sandbags if there are not pre-made bags available.
  • Contact your property insurance agent to see if a flood insurance policy would help you. Even if you’re not in the mapped floodplain, you may be subject to flooding from local drainage.
  • Talk to us about protecting your house or business. There are ways to modify your building to minimize flood damage.
  • The City of Flagstaff operates a small network of radio-telemetered gauges that transmit rainfall and stream flow information in real-time (as it occurs). If you would like to see this information for the various locations in the City, plus the rain gauges in the Schultz burn area, go to: www.flagstaff.az.gov/raingauges
  • To view forecasts, watches, and warnings issued by the National Weather Service for Northern Arizona, go to: www.wrh.noaa.gov/fgz/.

Let’s make this a safe monsoon season!

     

Saving Baby Ducks!

June 18, 2018

Eight ducklings were recently rescued from Wildcat Hill Reclamation Plant’s effluent contact basin. As families of ducks move through the area, ducklings often make their way into the effluent water basins, but can’t make it back over the concrete walls without help. Wildcat personnel are on the lookout for them in the facility every spring, checking the basins to ensure no ducks are trapped.  Due to the rapid response of the Wildcat team, all eight ducklings were rescued, released into the Picture Canyon Wetlands, and reunited with their mother.  

Don’t miss the video of the rescue!

     

2017 Water Quality Report

June 18, 2018

The Annual Water Quality Report for 2017 is now available! You can find the report under “Your Water/Water Quality” on the Water Services Webpage, or by clicking here.City Water Logo v.3_Color

Want to know more about the report or about water treatment and quality in general?  Join us for our next Community Water Forum on Monday, June 25!  Regulatory Compliance Manager Steve Camp will be presenting on Flagstaff’s water testing and safety.  The meeting is from 6-7 p.m. at the Joe C. Montoya Senior Center at Thorpe Park. Bring your questions! For more Information on the event Click Here

                                                                                                       

For past news stories please visit the Archive

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