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Pond restoration targets oxygen-sucking reeds

Pond restoration targets oxygen-sucking reeds

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The city of Flagstaff will be setting up a new way to manage Frances Short Pond after it finishes up a $40,000 vegetation removal and trail restoration project over the next two weeks.

Until now, the pond has been overseen by a maze of city departments and community members, said David McKee, with the city’s stormwater management department. McKee said the new operations and maintenance plan the city is planning to develop would better manage water levels, measure local precipitation and set out a regular cleanup schedule so that such massive dredging projects aren’t needed as much. It would also specifically dedicate city staff time and a budget to the pond’s maintenance, he said.

The current dredging project no doubt has short-term impacts on the pond's fish and other wildlife, but it’s a necessary sacrifice for the long-term benefits to water quality and vegetation levels, said Alan Haden an aquatic ecologist with Natural Channel Design, which was involved in a 2005 restoration of the pond.

“There are so many competing interests and whenever you get that you’re going to have to have some maintenance along the way to kind of reset things and get them all working together,” Haden said. “It was realized it would probably have to be done.”

Reedy growth

Since the Frances Short pond was last dredged a decade ago, sediment has built up and vegetation like bulrushes and algae have grown more dense, increasingly encroaching on the open water.

That’s a problem because during the times when those plants aren’t photosynthesizing, such as at night or when the pond is covered in ice, they respire, pulling oxygen from the water. That lack of oxygen has caused fish dieoffs in recent years, Haden said.

The city started to think about a pond cleanup after receiving comments from groups and individuals around the community who noticed the pond seemed to be getting overgrown, McKee said.

The city decided to pursue restoration work now because the Arizona Department of Game and Fish is approaching another fish-stocking date, meaning numbers of fish remaining in the water at this point are relatively low. This is also a good time when waterfowl aren’t migrating or mating near the pond, McKee said.

While there aren’t any efforts to monitor the impacts of the dredging and pond cleanup on fish or other aquatic life, McKee said the effect is similar to what would be caused by a massive flood flushing through the area and uprooting much of the vegetation. That sort of environmental change is a good thing, promoting diversity in aquatic ecosystems by preventing one organism from becoming too dominant in one place, Haden added.

“Disturbance can be a positive force for aquatic ecosystems,” he said.

As for the estimated 2,500 cubic yards of woody debris, bulrushes and mud that was pulled from the pond, it will be dried in the nearby parking area and then trucked to an area of Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve near the Rio de Flag. The material will be used for a berm opposite the Flagstaff Urban Trail that winds along the Rio to better shield the trail from nearby industrial operations.

“The great thing is we’re reusing it for beneficial uses on another project,” McKee said. “None of this is going to the landfill.”

After beginning the pond restoration work at the end of August, city crews opened the trails around the pond on Friday. Work on cleaning up and rehabbing the banks will continue over the next couple of weeks, said Michael O’Connor, public works section director.

As part of the effort to improve the pond, the city’s stormwater department is planning to sponsor its annual Make A Difference Day project there on Oct. 24, McKee said. 

In the long term though, the goal is to have a community group adopt the pond, he said.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or


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