Springs on the Colorado Plateau
A Threatened Natural and Cultural Resource in Northern Arizona
elders view springs as the "breathing holes" that connect us with the
underlying world that ultimately supports us, and they draw upon these
habitats for medicinal and ceremonial plants as well as for water.
Western-trained ecologists view springs as extremely fragile
concentrations of biodiversity, often 100 to 500 times richer in
species per unit area than surrounding landscapes in the semi-arid
uplands of our state.
Geohydrologists report that northern Arizona may
have once had some of the highest densities of freshwater springs of
any area in North America. Water policy analysts admit that the
protection of springs has "fallen through the cracks" between
groundwater law and surface water law.
their value, up to 80% of the springs outside of National Parks may
have dried up in our region, according to recent sample surveys by
Grand Canyon Wildlands Council biologist Larry Stevens and recent
estimates by Black Mesa Trust founder Vernon Masayesva. These habitats
harbor critical natural and cultural resources, but unfortunately once
the aquifer which feeds them is drained, the springs dry up. When
invasive species arise, it takes Herculean efforts to restore them.
Intertribal Springs and
Wetlands Restoration Task Force
And yet, from the Hopi mesas to the White Mountains, efforts are
indeed underway to restore these critically important habitats for
migratory and resident wildlife. The Center for Sustainable
Environments now bridges spring restoration efforts occurring both on
and off reservations,
the exchange of "best practices" for removing invasive species,
restoring flows, reintroducing native wetlands plants, and
revitalizing heirloom orchard and field crops that can be grown
downstream without overtaxing the water supplies. Migratory birds and
resident beavers are now returning to these habitats for the first
time in decades. Equally important, biologists working on and off
reservations are feeling confident enough with one another to share
these stories of successes and failures, and move ahead our capacity
to restore or protect existing springs while there is still time.