The inspiring cliffs of Grand Canyon cut through millions of years worth of geological processes, exposing the edges of aquifers and resulting in one of the highest concentrations of springs in the United States.

Springs— ecosystems where groundwater reaches the Earth’s surface—are among the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth. Many springs in Grand Canyon are nearly pristine. Isolated by harsh surrounding landscapes, ecologically intact springs function as islands of habitat, supporting high levels of biodiversity and unique species, and many endangered or rare species.

Springs often support 100-500-fold higher species concentrations than are found in the surrounding landscapes. Nearly 10% of the 1800 plant species that occur in Grand Canyon are found only at springs, and several are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth). Springs ecosystems have enormous recreational and cultural value in Grand Canyon National Park, as well as in the surrounding landscape.

In collaboration with hydrologists at Grand Canyon National Park, and with support of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, the Springs Stewardship Institute is compiling available data into a comprehensive online database, Springs Online. This application provides secure, user-friendly access to comprehensive, current information on springs distribution, ecological health, and springs-dependent species in the Grand Canyon region.

Comprehensive map of springs (reported and confirmed) in the Grand Canyon ecoregion. Map produced by Jeff Jenness.

Condition and Risks

In spite of its status as a National Park and a World Heritage Site, springs of the Grand Canyon are at risk from impacts both within and outside of park boundaries. Ecological changes due to human use and global climate change may have large potential impacts on flow and the bio-cultural value of springs in Grand Canyon. In addition, springs are frequently the focus of river and back-country recreational visitor experiences in the National Park.

The springs of Grand Canyon are remarkable theaters in which to better understand ecosystem ecology; however, the ecology of springs has been largely ignored and overlooked by the public, land managers, and the scientific community. As a result of this lack of attention, these remarkable ecosystems are inadequately protected, poorly mapped, and insufficiently understood. Until recently, what little information existed was fragmentary, and therefore was not available to those who needed it most—the visiting public, resource managers, conservation organizations, and researchers.

An unnamed spring in Grand Canyon National Park. One of many virtually unmapped or surveyed, this spring plays host to many springs-dependent species including McDougall's Flaveria. Photo by Rich Rudow.

An unnamed spring in Grand Canyon National Park. One of many virtually unmapped or surveyed, this spring plays host to many springs-dependent species including McDougall's Flaveria. Photo by Rich Rudow.

In recent decades, researchers, conservation organizations, and Federal agencies have collected information on springs in the Grand Canyon region. The NPS, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Grand Canyon Trust, researchers from several universities, and the USGS have collected information about flow, water quality, flora, and fauna associated with springs.