Spring water, its effects on aquatic ecosystems studied by the NAU team

“These small upland springs are sentinels that more quickly describe changes (in) the wet or dry phases of the climate,” says Abe Springer, professor of ecohydrogeology at Northern Arizona University. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

A YSI multi-parameter water quality probe, used to measure temperature, pH levels and other properties, rests in Hoxworth Springs on June 15. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

Northern Arizona University graduate students Sarah Zurkee, left, and Katelyn LaPine test a sample of spring water at Hoxworth Springs in the Coconino National Forest, south of Flagstaff. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

Katelyn LaPine, a Northern Arizona University graduate student studying with ecohydrogeologist Abe Springer, collects a sample at Hoxworth Springs on June 15. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

Abe Springer displays a laptop with data recorded from a pressure transducer in a creek fed by Hoxworth Springs, south of Flagstaff. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

Hoxworth Springs, south of Flagstaff, is one of many springs monitored by ecohydrogeologist Abe Springer and his team of Northern Arizona University graduate students, pictured June 15, 2022. sustainability of Arizona’s aquifers to provide water,” says Springer. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

FLAGSTAFF – Springs are extremely important to Arizona’s ecosystems and people, and springs can tell us a lot about both, according to Abe Springer, whose Northern Arizona University research team studies the water in source and groundwater and their effects on the environment.

For the past 10 years, the professor of ecohydrogeology and a team of NAU researchers, including graduate students, have monitored and collected spring data at Coconino National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park. The versatility of sources allows graduate students to study the effects on Arizona’s ecosystems and economies while contributing to our understanding of climate change.

A spring is a point where water held underground in geological layers, called aquifers, passes through the crust and reaches the surface. All of Arizona’s perennial streams are spring-fed, Springer said, and they can tell us about the health of the state’s aquifers.

Abe Springer, Katelyn LaPine, center, and Sarah Zurkee rest beside a creek fed by Hoxworth Springs as they collect data from a pressure transducer, which is embedded in the creek and measures height water in the channel. (Photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

Springer said he studies Arizona springs because of their importance to the environment and humans, and because they are a barometer of climate change. And they are easier to access than aquifers.

“The state of Arizona is significantly dependent on water supplies from aquifers and springs,” he said. “Our research at Hoxworth (springs south of Flagstaff) and similar sites contribute directly to informing the long-term sustainability of Arizona’s aquifers for water supply.

One of the team’s first findings is that springs react to the dry phase the climate is in right now, and that smaller springs can show changes that are delayed to larger springs, such as large springs that feed Oak Creek.

“These small upland springs are sentinels that more quickly describe changes (in) wet or dry phases of climate,” Springer said.

He and his team have partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to provide spring assessments and spring flow data, which the Forest Service uses to prioritize springs that need to be maintained, as well as manage water and water rights. other management issues.

Katelyn LaPine, a graduate student at NAU studying under Springer, focuses on the non-market values ​​of ecosystem services from springs, or how humans perceive and value springs. She found that many springs have been degraded by overgrazing by livestock.

“Springs are currently not managed separately from the overall forest management plan,” LaPine said. “Thus, our efforts are essentially aimed at ensuring that the springs are a separate identity from the general forest management plan”, which will facilitate the protection of the springs.

LaPine said the management scenarios they were working on could be applicable to other semi-arid ecosystems across the country.