Stopping the Hundred Year Flood: The role of the Rio de Flag

Print Friendly


Kyle Paffett, storm water engineer, and John Grahame, Secretary of Friends of the Rio de Flag, present a new Rio de Flag project in a public forum held on Thursday night. (Photograph by Natalia Guzman)

Kyle Paffett, storm water engineer, and John Grahame, Secretary of Friends of the Rio de Flag, present a new Rio de Flag project in a public forum held on Thursday night. (Photograph by Natalia Guzman)

Few people understand the devastation a hundred-year flood can cause for a community, and fewer realize the Rio de Flag, Flagstaff’s often-forgotten intermittent stream, is a key factor in this flood. Luckily, the Friends of the Rio de Flag and the city of Flagstaff have taken the concept of a hundred year flood quite seriously.

After the city council meeting on Feb. 26 discussed new flood control measures, further ideas are being proposed and enacted that can help reduce the negative impacts of this possible disaster.

John Grahame, secretary of Friends of the Rio de Flag, explained the response of the group to the deliberations.

“The city has been trying to do the right thing with the Rio for years and years and are just not getting anywhere with the army core of engineers,” Grahame said.

This statement comes on the heels of the city’s battle with the Army Corps over addressing the Rio’s flooding situation. The Army Corps would rather force the river underground to avoid flooding or create excessively large levies near the banks. However, the city has opted against this type of treatment of the Rio de Flag and is lobbying Congress for funds to solve the problem

In the likely case the funds are denied and the city will take on the project the Friends of the Rio de Flag would like to be apart in developing strategies to curb possible floods.

“If they decide they would want to do it themselves, we would very much like to be a part of that process.  It’s certainly true downtown; people would like to see the Rio pretty much as it looks now. They don’t want it to disappear. The Army Corps at one point proposed putting the entire thing underground,” Grahame said.

At the Friends of Rio de Flag meeting on March 7, many demonstrations were given to the environmental about current projects that are not only naturalizing the Rio but also would reduce the impacts of flood events.

Kyle Paffett, a storm water engineer who recently moved to Flagstaff, discussed the extra five feet of pipe that would be put in where Route 66 and the Rio de Flag crosspaths.

Paffett said, “The five feet will allow the extra runoff from the industrial and mall area to flow through instead of flood over the road.”

This small addition to an existing facility will not only aid the city in time of flooding, but also allows for a more natural setting downstream because the area where the mall is located used to be natural runoff that has been recreated with this piping. However, this addition is but one factor in a massive change happenng to the Rio de Flag in the area.

David McKee, a storm water management and specialist for the project, explained the naturalization that will occur near the industrial areas and beyond of the Rio de Flag that involves removing man-made barriers, increasing natural floodplains and increasing the natural meandering of the river.

He discussed the impacts of the changes, noting “A healthy functioning channel and floodplain is key in reducing negative impact to property and the reasons that we are here.”

The action plans Paffett, McKee, the stream team, the Friends of the Rio de Flag and the grants often gain through united action by all, have attributed to the progress that has been made.

While flood control projects and key storm water drainage may not be the type talking points that council member heatedly debate, these projects subtly protect Flagstaff and the citizens of Flagstaff from a disastrous hundred year flood and regular flooding that can destroy property and much more. With these notions in mind, the Friends of the Rio de Flag are also friends of anyone who values history, nature, and the welfare of Flagstaff.

To see upcoming events like visit



Coconino Community College
Student Housing at NAU