Coconino County spending millions to reduce post-wildfire flood risk near Flagstaff

Coconino County has invested millions of dollars this year in post-wildfire flood prevention on the San Francisco peaks near Flagstaff.
Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 5:22 PM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) - The potential for catastrophic flooding has construction and restoration crews working hard to reduce the chances of significant flood risks for the nearby communities. Two years after the Pipeline Fire and over a decade after the Schultz Fire, the east side of the San Francisco Peaks is still primarily bare of any vegetation lost in both devastating fires.

Coconino County’s flood control district has invested $30,261,100 in long-term flood mitigation projects for 2023. Most of them are focused on the east side of the mountain where the burn scar area is. “You really have to have both parts of these systems in order to provide effective flood mitigation,” said Community Relations Manager Sean Golightly, adding crews continue to work on and off the forest to mitigate post-wildfire risk.

One of their most significant projects has been to restore the Upper Copeland Alluvial Fan.

This means they’re taking these natural alluvial fans that slow both water and debris, thus speeding up the process by about 80 years so they can be more prominent and more effective now. “Up on the forest, the idea is to take the flood water, give it a chance to spread out, and drop its sentiment and debris,” Golightly said.

The hope is that when a once-in-a-25-year storm does occur, the fan will reduce the amount of sediment that washes down into neighborhoods. “Then you have to recollect that water as it hits the forest boundary and try and channel it quickly, effectively, safely, through the neighborhood as you allow,” Golightly said.

Other projects the county is working on include the Campbell and North Paintbrush Watershed projects, Government Tank Fan restoration, and Schultz Creek projects.

But projects like these are expensive. Golightly said they’re trying to focus on more proactive projects instead of being reactionary. “Moving forward, you’re going to see Coconino County put a lot of emphasis on forest restoration, on working with the forest service to make sure that the forests out here in Coconino County are in a more resilient state to resist catastrophic wildfire in the future.”

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