Saving Springs

Saving Springs

Water resources in the arid Sky Island Region are critical for landscape health and are being negatively affected by increased aridity, catastrophic fire, and human uses. The southwest has been identified by the National Climate Assessment as one of the most sensitive regions to climate change in the U.S. and will experience continued temperature increases, summer heat waves that are longer and hotter than in the past, and reduced stream flows, among other changes.

imageedit_1_8187328774Water is a scarce and critical resource in the arid southwest. Springs in arid ecosystems occupy a small fraction of the landscape and yet support disproportionately high levels of productivity, endemism and biodiversity. Springs are keystone ecosystems that exert disproportionate influence on surrounding landscapes and are known to be biodiversity hotspots. They have enormous effects on surrounding landscapes, biota, and economies and play a crucial role in providing refugia for migratory birds, reptiles and amphibians. Although they are abundant in this arid region, they are poorly documented and little studied. They also suffer from extensive human modification and are among the most threatened ecosystems. Lack of information on their location, management context, and biological, hydrological, and ecological characteristics hinders effective stewardship of these resources.

Sky Island Alliance is working to inventory springs ecosystems and to assess their current condition and potential for restoration. We use this critical data to determine which springs can be protected and to prioritize sites for restoration.

Newly collected and previously existing assessment information from the various cooperating agencies (Pima County, Santa Cruz County, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geologic Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Arizona Game and Fish Department) is now available online regionally and internationally through the Springs Inventory Database. This database is a central repository for inventory information that transcends jurisdictional boundaries and provides information about water availability, its relationship to groundwater basins and its importance to wildlife, plants and humans. This database will provide a much-needed landscape level context for making decisions about management of these crucial resources; this integrated approach was not previously possible due to data being stored by individual agencies in different formats.

imageedit_1_6064147673We employ a combination of expert and citizen science inventories and assessments to collect critical baseline information on known springs. We use inventory methodologies accessible by citizen scientists to collect new data. This type of assessment has long been desired by many land and resource managers in the region but has been unattainable by a single entity due to the resource-intensive nature of visiting many springs across the region. Our volunteer-driven inventory program is a model for monitoring climate sensitive resources with limited resources.

Enter the Springs Database Portal at

Sky Island Alliance volunteers are engaged in a critical monitoring efforts at key spring sites. Adopt-a-Spring teams are monitoring springs sites scattered across the region to collect seasonal data. This information will help us understand if restoration treatments are benefiting wildlife and ecosystems. It will also help us track the impact of climate change on spring ecosystems.

Dedicated teams visit a spring once per season to:

  • Collect information on flow, wetted area and water quality.
  • Collect photos.
  • Note any plants/animals not already on the list for the site.

Monitoring springs provides data on climatic influences on flow rates and species compositions.  Longer-term assessments will provide richer species data and further document ecosystem stressors.

We are currently monitoring six sites located in the following mountain ranges: Pajaritos, Rincons, Pinaleños, Chiricahuas, Santa Ritas and Whetstones.