Springs: The Canary in a Coal Mine for Groundwater

Abe Springer and Karissa Ramsted looking at aquatic invertebrates in Hoxworth Spring, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Abe Springer.

By Abe Springer

Importance of Springs to Humans

Humans have relied on springs for millennia. Since the beginning of human evolution, populations spanning all seven continents have built entire communities around these sources of water, because they are dependable, plentiful and not as subject to the changes of climate and stream flow.

According to the Springs Stewardship Institute, springs support more than 10 percent of the endangered species in the United States, making them some of the most biologically and culturally important ecosystems on Earth. They function as hotspots for biodiversity and often support many rare and endangered plant and animal species.

Yet, despite their intrinsic benefits to the ecosystem, they continue to be understudied and inadequately protected, especially with increasing diversion of groundwater flow from the sources of springs by pumping the aquifers which supply them.

Over the past 15 years, I have studied more than 1,000 springs, closely examining the relationship between springs and the health of the aquifer. I have discovered that springs are of inestimable value to plants and wildlife in landscapes where they occur and have also learned that springs continue to be as important to populations today as they were thousands of years ago.

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