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.


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


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


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 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


Our Reclaimed Water Team at the Symposium


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

Stormwater Header

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:
  • To view forecasts, watches, and warnings issued by the National Weather Service for Northern Arizona, go to:

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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