Project Summary

The goal of this project was to provide land managers with comprehensive, current information regarding the distribution of springs and springs-dependent species across the US areas of the Desert LCC in a secure, accessible, and user-friendly format that allows for analysis of springs ecosystem vulnerability to land management practices and climate change. 

The Springs Stewardship Institute completed this two-year project on October 30, 2015, and submitted our final report. A brief description of the methods and results of four objectives of this project are listed and described below.

Develop a springs geodatabase and provided secure, accessible online tools that allow cooperative agencies, Tribes, institutions, NGOs, and researchers to easily access and, if they wish, share information across administrative boundaries, and to engage partners and volunteers to locate unmapped springs and assist with monitoring efforts.

Stage 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Compile publicly available data in a secure platform

SSI collected publicly available data on springs distribution within the DLCC boundary, combining several major datasets from state and federal agencies, NHD, GNIS, volunteers, backcountry users, Tribes, and other NGOs. SSI compiled georeference data for 15,520 springs among the five DLCC states into one geodatabase, with documentation of all information sources.

The work involved a comprehensive cataloging of each individual spring including spring name (if known), land unit detail, elevation, 8-digit Hydrological Unit Code (HUC), Quad name, inventory status, available reports, andunique identifier that is joined to the the Springs Online MySQL database at SSI also included site sensitivity information, as directed by land managers, delineating if the site is publicly known and if it houses sensitive species or resources. Spatial information is stored in an Arc SDE geodatabase, on our firewalled MNA server that is dedicated to springs information management at We developed metadata according to best practice standards; editor tracking is enabled. The server is backed up hourly, and incremental backups are saved off-site. All springs data have been imported to the Springs Online database (Stage 3).

Online interactive map of publicly available springs distribution data with in the DLCC.


Engage DLCC land manager collaboration

SSI collaborated with many partners in an effort to build a community of springs research in the DLCC. Partner participation takes many forms, including sharing of data, providing technical support, giving presentations, assisting students with projects and masters theses, attending planning meetings, and conducting workshops. Many volunteers (individuals, students, agency representatives, universities, and Tribes)  have contributed time and energy to refining our protocols and methods by participating with survey trips and entering and analyzing data.

Outreach Database and Listserve

SSI has compiled contact information for 392 federal, state, Tribal, and NGO resource management offices within the DLCC, as well as 486 contacts associated with those offices. Using a Listerve, SSI communicates with members to follow up on projects, share new research announcements, invite to attend workshops, and allow those members to communicate directly with SSI and contribute information on the status of springs in their jurisdiction.

Website Enhancements

SSI launched the newly redesigned in April, 2015. The new website provides a technical framework to continue to build a community to support springs research through interactive geospatial tools, information about springs ecosystems and stewardship, survey protocols, the Springs Online User Manual, links to research efforts and publications, news about upcoming workshops, webinars, and events, and information to form additional collaborative partnerships.


Refine Springs Online

SSI refined our Springs Online Springs Inventory Database, making many enhancements. There has been excellent and growing response from many land managers, researchers, Tribes, and agencies across the DLCC. Currently, Springs Online has 284 users, with new ones joining every week. These include prominent southwestern springs researchers and taxonomists, agency personnel, students, Tribal members, and independent researchers. The database has information for nearly 100,000 springs across the western United States, and over 15,000 surveys.

New functions within the database include the ability to view the source of information, and whether or not the site is publicly known. This allows land managers to designate which sites are not available to the public without permission. SSI also included a sensitivity status field that allows land managers to designate whether a site's location is sensitive, survey data are sensitive, both, or neither. This structure was requested by several land managers. We also added fields for the LCC, USGS quad, and 8-digit HUC. We updated all reported springs in the DLCC with this information.

The flora and fauna sections of the database have also been enhanced to include Springs-Dependent Species (SDS) information, including T/E species designation, spring life history, endemism, conservation status, range maps, and references. Occurrence data for reported species can be viewed on Google maps, exported as a kml file to view on Google Earth, or exported into a csv file.

Security and permissions structures have also been enhanced, allowing project and land managers to secure sensitive information, grant access to sensitive projects or surveys, and share information with other collaborators, depending on their level of access permissions within the database. Security of data is of the utmost concern to SSI, as it is important to our collaborators - particularly Tribes and the National Park Service. SSI has worked closely with several Tribes to compile and archive sensitive data on reservation springs, advancing SSI's collaborative relationship with Tribal partners. 


Secure and publish the geodatabase

SSI's ArcSDE geodatabase is located on our dedicated server. Using ArcGIS users, roles, and permissions, we are able to provide controlled access to published Web Mapping Services (WMS) and Web Feature Services (WFS) for specific land units, while maintaining security for sensitive information.


Compile additional springs data

SSI has imported additional contributed springs locational data into the geodatabase, scanned digital raster graphic (DRG) maps to find additional springs, and continues to manually enter or import springs survey data contributed by collaborators:

  1. Forest Service data from the Spring Mountains NRA, collected using USFS protocols.
  2. Springs data from the Grand Canyon Ecoregion, collected and contributed by Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Grand Canyon Trust, the National Park Service, and independent researchers.
  3. Data collected by the Sky Island Alliance and BLM in southeastern Arizona.
  4. Data collected for National Forest Service planning in northern Arizona.
  5. Publicly available water chemistry and flow information, as well as other datasets from the BLM, independent researchers, and other sources.

With more than 15,000 documented springs in the US portion of the DLCC, over 2,200 are marked as non-public. In addition to inventory data, we have compiled springs ecosystem assessment data for many the above landscapes, as well as new data collected by students and staff in participating land management units. We use these data to provide estimates of springs ecological integrity and vulnerability to anthropogenic and climate related risks.


Publish Web Feature Service (WFS) applications

SSIs data technicians have created interactive DLCC landscape maps, hosted at ArcGIS Online. Examples include the Spring Mountains NRA (, Nevada BLM (, and Coconino County ( In addition, SSI has created non-public mapping services for Grand Canyon National Park, Kaibab National Forest, Coconino National Forest, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and other land units in the DLCC that include sensitive data.

These geocollaborative online mapping applications do not require GIS expertise but provide additional capabilities to partners for adding, editing, and querying data. In the future we intend to develop applications for the general public, to engage them in Citizen Science opportunities.

Stage 1 | 2 | 3

Develop a list of and map macroscopic springs-dependent species (SDS) and associated information throughout the DLCC. SDS include a wide array of species. Many times their habitats (see 12 active springs types) are widely dispersed or they are highly endemic at one or two locations. Endemic, rare, or endangered SDS are often important considerations for resource management, and yet a regional synthesis of macroscopic SDS has not been compiled and is not available.


Identify information sources

NatureServe, an international network of natural heritage programs and conservation data centers, has compiled the DLCC state and national lists of sensitive plant, invertebrate, and vertebrate species data. SSI requested and received NatureServe on the status of all aquatic, wetland, and riparian species in the study area.

SSI also identified SDS species through interviews with recognized experts in botany, invertebrate taxonomy, ichthyology, and herpetology at regional and national universities, museums, and private collections. Even beyond this project, SSI will continue our collaboration with leading experts in botany, invertebrate taxonomy, fisheries, herpetology, and other vertebrate biologists. Dr. Stevens has working relationships with many of these individuals, and has co-authored reports and papers with many of them.


Compile and quality control SDS information

SSI compiled information on aquatic, wetland, and riparian flora and fauna in the DLCC region, and reviewed each species to determine whether or not it qualifies as an SDS. The draft species list included nearly 2500 macroscopic species of plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

Taxonomic experts reviewed data on:

  1. Which macroscopic plant, invertebrate, and vertebrate taxa are springs-dependent.
  2. What references document those SDS habitat affinity and distribution.
  3. Which institutions house relevant collections of those species. We also queried experts for data about groups that are poorly known taxonomically and that require further study (e.g., Physidae aquatic snails, Turbellaria flatworms, etc.).

While NatureServe provides conservation information on a vast array of species, SSIs discussions with experts about SDS are revealing numerous, hitherto poorly or undocumented species that require springs for some or all of their life histories. SDS that have been recognized by federal or state governments as worthy of management attention as rare, threatened, or endangered are being specifically noted. This SDS information is available at Springs Online.


Reporting and mapping

SSI entered occurrence data of selected SDS into springs where they are known to occur, and published range maps for many species at Springs Online. From here, users with appropriate permissions can download occurrence data into csv files, view them in Google Maps, or download to kml files to use with Google Earth or GIS. We also published an interactive mapping application is available at SSI also developed a narrative mapping application that allows springs stewards to easily identify species of concern within their area. SSIs final report provides summary information on the number of SDS within HUCs across the DLCC landscape, highlighting federally listed SDS.

Stage 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

SSI provides support on the use of these new data and tools through in-person training sessions, quarterly webinars, a tutorial, online instructional videos, and individualized support sessions through video conferencing and screen sharing.


Develop an outreach program and volunteer base

Using contact lists developed as part of Objective 1, SSI continued to invite interested federal and state agencies, Tribes, non-profit organizations, universities, museums, and independent research groups to participate in online and in-person training sessions, as well as provide them with an overview of this project. SSI uses its extensive contacts list to develop a group of collaborators and volunteers to assist with data compilation, as well as activities requiring more technical skills.


Quarterly webinars and online support

We held regular webinars to update participating collaborators about progress on the project. For some of these, video recordings are available for those who were unable to join. SSI also regularly provided individual support to collaborators through GoToMeeting screen sharing tools for unique requests or troubleshooting. Users are invited to contact



SSI conducted a two-day training workshop, May 6-7, 2014, in Flagstaff that was open to any of the project collaborators or others throughout the study area. They also held a second workshop in Las Vegas, NV on October 15-16, 2014, hosted by the US Forest Service. These workshops provided an overview of springs ecology, inventory and assessment, risks, restoration potential, information management, and springs-dependent species.  The workshops also provided specific training in SSI’s inventory protocols, springs ecosystem assessment protocols (SEAP), and information management, and both workshops included visits to local springs and hands-on experience in data collection and data management.

SSI also conducted on-site trainings and mini-workshops for interested Tribes who were unable to attend the general workshops or requested more personalized training sessions based on individual needs as well as concerns for culturally sensitive sites. SSI held such a workshop for the White Mountain Apache Tribe on October 22-23 for 11 members of their staff. Following this very positive interaction, we have continued to assist them with entering survey data into the Springs Online database.


Develop online database tutorial and training videos

SSI published a Database User Manual that can be downloaded as a PDF, or viewed and navigated on our website. In addition, SSI is developing a series of instructional online videos demonstrating the use and basic functionality of the tools we are developing for this project. Although these are not yet available, SSI has provided an overview of the online database in several webinars; videos of these are available online.


Train and collaboration with undergraduate students

SSI collaborated with professors from Prescott College and Eastern Arizona College to train students to collect and compile survey data in remote landscapes of teh Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts where SSI suspects high concentrations of unmapped springs and SDS exist. SSI also partnered with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Safford Field Office to engage students from Eastern Arizona College to inventory seeps, springs, and cienegas in several BLM Wilderness Areas in southeastern Arizona.  

In addition, SSI conducted a Southwestern Springs Ecosystem Ecology and Stewardship class with students of Prescott College May 19-June 13, 2014. The course included class-time lectures, field trips, laboratory data entry and analysis, and report preparation, primarily at the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Powell Ecology Laboratory in Flagstaff, AZ.



SSIs staff has developed interim, draft, and draft final reports covering results from each objective. This page, along with the Project Outcomes, Interactive Maps, and Past Webinars represent a portion of the finished product.

Stage 1 | 2 | 3

Many aspects of biotic and water resource management in the DLCC are likely to be affected by climate change, which is predicted to increase ambient temperatures by 4-6°F over the next century (Alexander et al. 2011, Glick et al. 2011, Bureau of Reclamation 2012). Global circulation models (GCMs) agree as to potential impacts: increased air temperature, more erratic extreme weather, and equal or less precipitation (Knuttti and Sedláček 2012). Increased temperature and stable or reduced precipitation will reduce infiltration that already only amounts to a few percent of the total incoming precipitation in the DLLC (Iorns et al. 1965). Unknown trade-offs may exist in which the loss of forests to larger, more intense wildfires may reduce evapotranspiration, thus increasing infiltration slightly. Downscaled GCMs suggest that the DLCC may sustain climate change–induced reduction of precipitation (BOR 2012).

Adaptive responses to ecosystem management and climate changes have been recommended by the Springs Stewardship Institute (2013), EcoAdapt (2013), and other organizations through the following rather simple strategic ecosystem resources management formula:

Resource Inventory -> Assessment of Vulnerability -> Planning ->

Implementation -> Feedback and Adjustment of Management Practices

This adaptive management formula accepts uncertainty and bases management decision-making on the best available scientific evidence, practices which are recommended here.

Conscientious management requires understanding about the distribution of ecosystem resources (Objectives 1 and 2), and also the use, status and vulnerability of those resources to climate change. Thus, an a priori understanding is needed of within-basin springs use and economic reliance on springs ecosystem goods and services because ownership and use strongly affect management options.

Many federal, state, Tribal, and private springs stewards use spring water for potable and livestock watering purposes, but there exists no regional estimate of the extent or distribution of such uses.  Many of the USFS, BLM field stations, and many private ranches in northern Arizona use springs for potable water supplies, and approximately 11% of the water supply for the city of Flagstaff is derived from springs (Young 2013).  However, the uses of springs throughout the DLCC have not been compiled. Such information is critical to understanding the importance of springs and, hence, the level of preparedness needed under different climate change scenarios.


Identify use of springs in land units (Year Two of this project)

Vulnerability assessment of springs ecosystems and SDS to climate change requires four sets of data that are presently unavailable: the distribution of springs (Objective 1); the distribution of SDS (Objective 2); the uses to which springs are subjected; and the status of the aquifers supporting those springs. While each dataset is needed to understand the vulnerability of springs to climate change, the absence of use data is a substantial information gap, one that prevents basic understanding of the regional role and importance of springs ecosystem goods and services, both socioeconomically and in relation to biodiversity management.

SSI conducted a general assessment of the ecological status and use to which DLCC springs are put by interviewing participating land and resource managers. 

SSI interviewed the city water managers of all large DLCC cities and 50 randomly selected small towns, as well as each collaborating agency in the DLCC landscape to quantify to the extent possible how the springs under their jurisdiction are used. Each participating resource manager was asked the following questions:

  1. How well do you know the distribution and ecological status of springs within your land management area (this may include the traditional cultural landscape of Native American Tribes)?
  2. How many springs exist within your jurisdiction?
  3. Who owns the springs water rights (e.g., agency versus allotment holders)?
  4. How many of the following springs uses exist - residential domestic (potable), urban-potable, urban-industrial, rural livestock watering, wildlife water, recreational use, mining, fire suppression, not used, or other? 
  5. What is the ecological status of your springs?
  6. Which springs are your highest management and restoration priority and why?

SSI received information back from nearly all of the large cities, more than 10 towns, and several federal land managers about the use of springs on their lands. In most cases, there was little springs use, but the City of Flagstaff obtains 10-15% of its water from springs, and many allotment holders on USFS and BLM lands use springs for livestock water.

To the extent that distribution of use can be acquired, we will apply those data to the 8-digit HUCs of the DLCC. The resulting springs use map will identify those springs that are most heavily drawn on for each different usage.


Develop a landscape-based GIS Climate Change Risk Model

In lieu of comprehensive groundwater modeling of each HUC in the DLCC region (such data are not yet available), surrogate hydrological indicators may provide insight into relationships between HUCs, human uses and demand, population growth, aquifer depth, SDS, and climate changes. SSI developed a landscape model of springs vulnerability to climate change based on products of this proposal coupled with previously generated analyses.

The climate change risk model, designed on the 8-digit HUC scale, is based on: 1) our springs distribution map (Objective 1); 2) our SDS distribution map (Objective 2); 3a) the Bureau of Reclamation’s (2012) Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand report results that synthesizes global circulation models, paleo-reconstructions of tree ring data and recorded river basin discharge, as well as population growth and projected water demands for the lower Colorado River basin for the next 50 yr; 3b) Reclamation’s Rio Grande Basin Report (2011), and other relevant basin water supply analyses of climate change impacts on DLCC climate and water resources; 4) our HUC-based springs economic uses described in stage 2.

SSI mapped existing multi-model climate change projections across the 80 HUCs in the DLCC. In addition, SSI included springs and SDS distribution layers to more fully evaluate climate change risks to springs ecosystems among HUCs.

The GIS climate risk model predicts which springs and 8-digit HUCs in the DLCC landscape are likely to be most at risk from climate change impacts, and which SDS are most at risk due to groundwater supply demands. Mapping springs distribution, use, and the distribution and endemism of SDS provides a relative metric of biodiversity risk to reduced springs discharge among HUCs. Additionally, because endemism is higher at evolutionarily stable, deep-aquifer springs, our SDS mapping data and ancillary springs data will provide insight into the distribution of deep-aquifer springs that can be used by managers to identify other similar springs and HUCs in which endemic SDS may occur.

SSI developed a HUC-based population map of the DLCC to evaluate changing demands on groundwater and therefore springs risks related to groundwater withdrawal.

SSI summarized population trends per HUC using US Census Block data from 1990, 2000 and 2010. We defined our initial analysis area as all those HUCs which intersect the DLCC and the Colorado River Basin portion of the SRLCC, and we downloaded all the census block data for all states which intersect those HUCs and converted them to file geodatabase feature classes.

SSI estimated the population per HUC by calculating the weighted sum of all the intersecting census block populations.  For example, if a census block lay entirely inside a HUC, we added the entire census block population to the cumulative HUC population.  If that census block lay only partially inside the HUC, then we multiplied the block population by the proportion of the HUC that lay within the HUC.  By this logic a census block with 100 individuals, which only lay 70% inside a HUC, would only contribute 70 individuals to the total HUC population.

HUCs that crossed into Mexico were treated as a special case. Because we only had population data for the United States, we clipped the HUC to the US boundary before calculating population statistics within it.

Population density per HUC was calculated by dividing the population count by the HUC area in square kilometers.  For HUCs that crossed into Mexico, we divided by the area of the clipped HUC.  We calculated absolute population change and percentage population growth over the periods 1990 to 2000, 2000 to 2010, and 1990 to 2010.  Absolute population change was calculated by subtracting the population on the first date from the population on the second date, such that a value of 100 meant that the population in that HUC grew by 100 individuals.  We calculated percentage population growth by dividing the population on the first date by the population on the second date, such that a value of 100% mean the population on the second date was exactly equal to the population on the first date.


Test and Apply the Climate Change Risk Model

The refined model landscape risk models will help managers identify springs ecosystems, springs-dependent species, and springs assemblages that are at risk due to climate change. Through project outreach, we have provided managers with the opportunity to identify and share insights on management options for springs, SDS, and springs assemblages. We presented posters of these maps at a DLCC meeting in Tucson in August, and provide all interactive maps here.