Water Library

Sky Island Waters: Adapting the Way Spring Ecosystems are Monitored, Managed, and Restored

This final report of work accomplished was put together in March 2021 for the BOR WaterSMART Applied Science Grant. The report details the tasks completed for three main projects: the creation of our Spring Prioritization Tool, the guidance we developed for spring monitoring based on currently used spring monitoring approaches, and the work we did with managers and local stakeholders to utilize and revise the Arizona Springs Restoration Handbook.

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Environmental Flows Policy Guide

Sky Island Alliance and University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center have worked together since 2016 to promote dialogue, understanding, and innovation among water managers, natural resources managers, and community groups toward securing environmental flows for water-dependent natural areas. Two critical threats to healthy ecosystems are the lack of policy tools necessary to protect water at its source and the lack of effective mechanisms for reinvesting water saved through conservation and efficiency back into natural areas. To develop these tools and mechanisms, we must effectively link regional discussions about water management with conservation and strategies to protect water dependent ecosystems and watersheds.

This policy guide outlines available planning and management options for ensuring environmental flows by exploring the status of policies and regulations, highlighting successful examples of environmental flows projects, showcasing available tools for local decision making, and identifying future pathways available to include natural areas alongside human uses in water management.

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Sky Island Springs Prioritization Tool

Sky Island Alliance created a Sky Island Springs Prioritization Tool to help land managers gain insight into the state of nearly 4,000 springs in southern Arizona. It is a database, conservation science model, and dynamic map that allows users to compare the relative conservation value, level of threat, and spatial isolation of springs from other perennial water sources in the region.

By using our map, users can learn how to compare the condition and risk of springs across public and private lands with best available data to guide the prioritization of springs for protection and restoration actions on the ground. Version 1.0 includes only springs in the U.S. portion of the Sky Island region, but we plan to expand future versions to include springs in Mexico also.

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Localización, caracterización biológica y perturbaciones antropogénicas de manantiales cercanos a la ruta Esqueda – Sierra del Tigre, Sonora

Los manantiales se encuentran entre los ecosistemas con mayor diversidad estructural, ecológica y biológica, pero siguen siendo algunos de los ecosistemas más amenazados de la Tierra (Stevens y Springer, 2005). La información que tenemos sobre manantiales en Sonora, México es limitada; por lo tanto, el público y los terratenientes sonorenses tienen poco interés por los manantiales, lo que conduce al mal manejo de estos recursos.

Este proyecto de tesis, escrito por el becario de Sky Island, Ángel García, investiga y documenta la distribución, condición y características biológicas de los manantiales de Sonora, además de las amenazas que enfrentan. Para completar la investigación, Ángel estudió una pequeña área de la región de Sky Islands en Sonora y utilizó Spring Seeker de Sky Island Alliance y los “Springs Ecosystem Inventory Protocols” del Springs Stewardship Institute para hacer una evaluación completa de los ecosistemas de primavera dentro de este representante. área.

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Story Map: Enhancing Resilience to Catastrophic Wildfire

In the past 15 years, 25% of the U.S. Sky Islands have burned in wildfires. Moderate and high burn severity made up 35% of the burned area. This story map shows where Sky Island Alliance worked with the Coronado National Forest, the Arizona Department of Corrections, and Borderlands Restoration Network in 2015 to install over 700 loose rock erosion control structures in two watersheds to help enhance their resilience to catastrophic wildfire.


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Oases of the future? Springs as potential hydrologic refugia in drying climates

Natural springs in water‐limited landscapes are biodiversity hotspots and keystone ecosystems that have a disproportionate influence on surrounding landscapes despite their usually small size. Some springs served as evolutionary refugia during previous climate drying, supporting relict species in isolated habitats. Understanding whether springs will provide hydrologic refugia from future climate change is important to biodiversity conservation but is complicated by hydrologic variability among springs, data limitations, and multiple non‐climate threats to groundwater‐dependent ecosystems. We present a conceptual framework for categorizing springs as potentially stable, relative, or transient hydrologic refugia in a drying climate. Clues about the refugial capacity of springs can be assembled from various approaches, including citizen‐science‐powered ecohydrologic monitoring, remote sensing, landowner interviews, and environmental tracer analysis. Managers can integrate multiple lines of evidence to predict which springs may become future refugia for species of concern, strengthening the long‐term effectiveness of their conservation and restoration, and informing climate adaptation for terrestrial and freshwater species. 

  • Recommended Citation: Cartwright, J. M., K. A. Dwire, Z. Freed, S. Hammer, B. McLaughlin, L. W. Misztal, E. R. Schenk, J. R. Spence, A. E. Springer, L. E. Stevens. 2020. Oases of the future? Springs as potential hydrologic refugia in drying climates. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 18 (5): 245-253. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2191
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Springs in the Sky Island Region: Inventory, Assessment, and Management Planning Project (Cienega Creek Groundwater Basin)

This report details the methodology and results of Sky Island Alliance’s two year project to inventory and assess springs in the Cienega Creek Basin, and to make newly collected and previously existing assessment information from various cooperating agencies available by helping to bring the Spring Stewardship Institute’s Springs Inventory Database online. Report materials include an analysis of the state of springs in the Cienega Creek Basin, spring inventory information for each spring surveyed, and information on the online database. 

  • Appendix A: Springs Inventory and Assessment Protocols
  • Appendix B: Spring Inventory Reports
  • Appendix C: Springs Adaptation Plan for the Sky Island Region
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Arizona Springs Restoration Handbook

This handbook was co-produced with the Springs Stewardship Institute. With support from the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This handbook is meant to advance the understanding of springs by land managers in the state of Arizona,as well as promote communication, stewardship, and collaboration, and to provide guidance to land managers embarking on springs stewardship programs. It provides resource managers with background information regarding the nature of springs ecosystems, inventory and assessment protocols, and the tools necessary for effective restoration and monitoring. Our springs inventory, assessment, and stewardship protocols incorporates much previous research and practical, hands-on recommendations. Land managers across Arizona can use this handbook to set measurable goals in their springs stewardship and restoration plans, and implement effective actions towards those goals.

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Fire and Water: Assessing Spring Ecosystems and Adapting Management to Respond to Climate Change

This report details the methodology and results of Sky Island Alliance’s two year project to inventory and assess springs in the Upper Santa Cruz River Basin, assess impacts of fire on spring ecosystems, develop a volunteer-based Adopt-A-Spring program to monitor springs, develop an Arizona Springs Restoration Handbook and to develop guidance and strategies to reduce vulnerability of springs to climate change. Report materials include an analysis of the state of springs in the Upper Santa Cruz Basin, an analysis of fire impacts at springs, spring inventory information for each spring surveyed, and management recommendations for springs affected by fire.

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