Flagstaff Schultz Burn Area Flooding: 3 Things You Need To Know Before You Re-Landscape

Posted on September 14, 2010

What a different monsoon season it was for those folks affected by the Flagstaff Schultz Fire flooding. Even if you normally love the rains, this season was wrought with anxiety if your home and/or property were affected. While my family was fortunate not to be affected, every time there was a substantial rain in the Schultz burn area, I would hear the very odd sound of a rushing river outside. It gave pause to my work as it was both amazing and difficult to witness.

While many are learning to live with a transformed environment and it is speculated to be about five years before there is some soil stabilization in the burn area, I am hearing that stepping over sandbags and looking at concrete jersey walls is growing tiresome. With what appears to be the end of the monsoons upon us, many in the flood area are now asking for landscaping advice. One of the first things to consider is your soils.

If your yard flooded, according to Jim Self, Colorado State University Soils Lab, there are three key things to look at in your soils:

1. Nutrients — The topsoil in your yard may have been drastically affected and essentially washed away from the flooding, leaving the subsoil exposed and nutrient level very low. However, if animal waste was deposited on your property, once it decomposes, it can actually benefit your soil. (Luckily, bacterial contaminants from manure tend not to survive long.)
2. Organic Matter content — We are seeing alot of hardpacked soils in the flooded areas. The reason for this is because of the high fire temperatures, which actually caused the soil particles to melt. Soil is mostly silicon (basically glass), so a melted mass was created from the hot burning fire, which later cooled and solidified. These hardpacked soils may be mixed with biosolids in some areas, or they may be lacking organic matter. They are non-absorbent and exacerbate runoff.
3. Salts — If the fire retardants used were high in salts and they have washed down into your yard, you may have high salt content in your new soils. This is detrimental to plants and to the living organisms in soil.

To address these problems, you will want to till your new soil and incorporate organic matter. Breaking up the soils may be particularly difficult if they are hardpacked, but the monsoons we received, coupled with the intense sunlight at our altitude, are beneficial to breaking these soils up. In addition to letting nature run its course, if you till the soil you will be exposing it to the air and sun, speeding up the process. And fortunately, any odor or bacteria will dissipate rather quickly. Working your soil and tilling in organic matter will improve both soil structure and nutrient levels.

While the above guidelines may prove to hold true in yards affected by flooding, it is recommended to perform a soils test to get a more accurate picture of what is going on. This will be the starting point for all of your new landscaping efforts. While there is not a local soils testing agency that I am aware of, soils tests are performed for only $28 by CSU’s Soils Lab. You should dig down 6-8″ in 5-6 different areas on your property that have been affected by the flooding. Combine the samples in a bucket and mix thoroughly. You can then fill a ziploc bag with a mixed sample from the bucket and send it off for testing. Turnaround time is fast, 3-4 days.

If you would like assistance with your soils testing or would like re-landscaping ideas, please contact me at 526-1429. I would be glad to help out my neighbors!


2 Responses to “Flagstaff Schultz Burn Area Flooding: 3 Things You Need To Know Before You Re-Landscape”

  1. Hattie Braun
    Nov 02, 2010

    The soils brought in by the floods are actually high in most nutrients except nitrogen. Sodium levels are low so I am guessing that salt is not a problem. The greatest concern are the high levels of E. coli and fecal coliform. Also a problem is the lack of structure to the silty accumulation but organic matter will help with that.

  2. janel
    Nov 14, 2010

    Thanks for the additional info., Hattie. It also may be that certain flooded areas have different soils issues than others. I had spoken with one resident about one mile from the forest’s edge who did not have contaminated soils, while another neighbor much nearer to the forest had her dog become quite ill from the contaminants. Luckily, they received good help from the vet!

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