Blog Post by Chelsea Silva, Executive Director, Friends of the Rio de Flag; STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio and City of Flagstaff Sustainability
A Ribbon of Life for Flagstaff Students, Residents, and Visitors
Walking from City Hall north you will find yourself on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS), seemingly headed towards the San Francisco Peaks. As you pass the Public Library, you’ll notice Wheeler Park to your right and a grassy, depression with a footbridge crossing to your right, the Rio de Flag.
An ephemeral stream, you will not see water in this grassy channel unless a monsoon hits in the summer or snow melts and flows downstream in the winter.
Keep wandering half a mile up the FUTS along the Rio de Flag and you will quickly arrive at Frances Short Pond. Filled naturally and sometimes supported with additional reclaimed water, the “duck pond” is one of the most visited sites along the Rio due to the recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities it provides.
The pond and the Rio flowing downstream from it provide a unique setting for Flagstaff students to learn about their environment. The Rio also gives students a chance to give back to their river through restoration and citizen science.
It is my goal as an AmeriCorps STEM VISTA member to connect Flagstaff students with the Rio de Flag. That is why I started the Adopt-the-Rio de Flag Stewardship program in my first VISTA term in 2016-2017. This program allowed me to connect with local teachers to share resources and provide introductory lessons on the Rio de Flag.
In fall 2017, freshman and sophomore biology students at Flagstaff High School began participation in the program. First, the students engaged in a classroom Introduction to the Rio, exploring different aspects of the Rio in small groups.
The following month, students collected data on the Rio de Flag, which was done in partnership with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s citizen science program called Arizona Water Watch. All of the photos in this blog post are courteous of these students who worked hard to document their surroundings as part of the data collection protocol.
During the remainder of my position, I hope to expand these place-based learning opportunities to other Flagstaff students. To achieve this goal, I will host a teacher workshop in the spring that focuses on stewardship, citizen science, and the Rio de Flag. This will give teachers the tools they need to connect their students to the Rio de Flag as stewards of their local river.
In order for the Adopt-the-Rio program to continue into the future, I also conduct grant writing and partnership building as part of my AmeriCorps STEM VISTA position. These tasks require a watershed-wide focus and long-term visioning with guidance and support from local government, residents, businesses and nonprofits.
The Rio de Flag is Flagstaff’s river, and it is our collective duty to protect it for future generations. My AmeriCorps STEM VISTA position gives students the chance to take the lead in protecting and restoring the Rio through citizen science and stewardship.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rio de Flag, we welcome you to watch our new short film, “Ribbon of Life.” Produced by one of our volunteers, Brittain Davis, this film is about those who visit and love the Rio de Flag.
E(ek!) Coli Sampling for the Safety of Humans and the Environment
Guest blog post by Chelsea Silva, VISTA Member for the City Sustainability Department and the Friends of the Rio de Flag
Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that can either exist as independent organisms or depend on another organism to live. E. coli bacteria are found in the environment (soil and vegetation) and in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. That’s right, fecal = relating to feces = poop!
Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (e.g. pathogens) could be in the water system. Only particular strains of E. coli cause serious illness, and people usually contact these strains (especially strain 0157:H7) through consuming undercooked meats such as hamburger. Disease symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and sometimes jaundice, plus headache and fatigue.
Safeguarding against E. coli is part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) mission to protect and enhance public health and the environment. The ADEQ conducts routine E. coli sampling throughout the state in order to reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms associated with sewage or animal wastes.
On June 28th, ADEQ staff trained staff and volunteers with Natural Channel Designs, Inc. and the Friends of the Rio de Flag on E. coli sampling. Trainees learned how to properly collect a water sample, how to process the sample using a handy “Processing Guide”, and how to record the data once processing is complete. Sampling in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas will provide the ADEQ with the data needed to protect our drinking water supplies.
Below show the initial and the final stage of processing the E. coli. After the sample incubates for 12 hours, you look at the large and small squares on the sample and count the ones that fluoresce under a black light.You then use a Most Probable Number (MPN) table to calculate the MPN of E. coli in the sample (you count the # large squares fluorescing in you sample and find this number on the X axis and do the same with the number of small squares fluorescing and find it on the Y axis to calculate the MPN of bacteria in the sample). The picture here shows that the sample contains bacteria, but not at a concerning level.
The Friends of the Rio de Flag is excited to partner with ADEQ and Natural Channel Designs, Inc. to engage citizen scientists in E. coli sampling. In the coming months, the Friends of the Rio will create a sampling plan with ADEQ to best fit the needs of our watershed. Afterwards, the Friends of the Rio will recruit volunteers to collect water samples throughout town. This will give us a better idea of water quality in our community.
Thank you to Meghan and Jake with the ADEQ for training us on E. coli sampling, and another thank you to Natural Channel Designs, Inc. for hosting the E. coli sample training day.
From L to R: Chris Tressler, Civil Engineer and Geomorphologist, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Mark Wirtanen, Biologist and Engineering Technician, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Oren Thomas, Conservation Projects Manager, Prescott Creeks; Jake Fleishman, Civil Engineering In-Training, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Chelsea Silva, STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Division; Meghan Smart, Hydrologist, ADEQ; and Jake Breedlove, Grant & Watershed Coordinator, ADEQ
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator