Springs Ecosystem Assessment Protocol

The Springs Ecosystem Assessment Protocol (SEAP) is the second phase in assessing site's condition and risk level following the first phase of Springs Inventory Protocol (SIP). SEAP is a process of evaluating the inventory data as well as other external information to generate a condition and risk score in each of the six predefined categories of variables. Risk is interpreted as the potential threat or the “condition inertia” of that variable. In other words, what is the probability of that variable remaining unchanged?

The six variable categories are:

  1. Aquifer and Water Quality
  2. Site Geomorphology
  3. Habitat and Microhabitat Array
  4. Site Biota
  5. Human Uses and Influences
  6. Administrative context under which the spring is managed.

Each category is scored on the basis of 5-8 subcategory variables that are ranked on a 0-6 scoring scale. Variables 1-5 are evaluated by the inventory team. Variable 6 is evaluated through a discussion with the land or resource manager. Subcategory scores are averaged to produce the overall Category scores. The ecological health score is evaluated in relation to human influences, which is then compared with the stewardship plan for the site.

SEAP Criteria sheets are available here...

SEAP has the flexibility to be developed from several levels of information as well as the availability of time and funding. These levels include:

  • A rapid, in-office assessment developed by a manager with good understanding of a site,
  • The results of a brief (10-20 minute) Level 1 field examination of the site, or
  • A comprehensive Level 2 inventory, conducted by a team of 3-4 experts during an extended (several hours long) site visit.

The SEAP’s quantitative approach also allows it to be used as a monitoring tool, permitting the comparison of ecological condition over time, or following management actions.


SSI has tested the SEAP on springs in several regional landscapes (southern Alberta, southern Nevada, northern Arizona, and elsewhere). All of these land areas are managed by various federal, provincial, tribal, and local stewards, and those reports are being prepared for peer-reviewed publication.

Our studies to date show that SEAP is broadly and multi-culturally effective, efficient, comprehensive, and specifically informative for virtually all spring ecosystems. Analysis of large suites of springs in those studies  revealed strong responses of springs types and habitats to anthropogenic stressors; particularly groundwater depletion, flow diversion, geomorphic alteration, livestock grazing, and non-native species introductions.

Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle National Monument

A strong example of SEAP implementation is SSI's Level 2 inventory of Montezuma Well, a large limnocrene (pool-forming spring) in Montezuma Castle National Monument in central Arizona. The SEAP produced from that inventory showed that the Well was in fairly good ecological shape but is threatened by regional groundwater pumping and intensive recreational impacts.

SSI also used the results of SEAP to advise federal and tribal managers on prioritized stewardship and restoration options. The advisory reports have been used to undertake springs restoration projects in Ash Meadows, Nevada (Otis Bay2006) and on the Arizona Strip (Grand Canyon Wildlands Council 2002, 2010). We expect and welcome future improvement of SEAP as additional data are compiled and further analyses are undertaken. We invite interested individuals and agencies to consider using both the SEAP and the springs inventory protocol on which it is based to prioritize understanding and improve stewardship of springs ecosystems in all landscapes.