The Springs Committee was formed to provide an organized approach to a comprehensive inventory of the numerous springs and seeps, and related groundwater dependent ecosystems, within the Escalante River watershed. Many important spring ecosystems, some harboring unique species, have already been identified and described by the National Park Service but because of the vast expanse of rugged terrain within the watershed, the number of documented springs likely represents a small fraction of the actual number of springs. A robust accounting of springs and seeps would provide an important baseline for assessing the effects of anticipated future climate warming and drying on the persistence of these systems. Partners participating in this effort include the US Forest Service, The University of Utah Digit Lab and the Springs Stewardship Institute. If you have questions or would like to get involved, please contact the coordinator:
Michael Scott; Colorado State University; 970-218-7329; firstname.lastname@example.org
Springs and seeps are groundwater-dependent ecosystems and they are of critical importance in arid landscapes. Numerous seeps, springs, and hanging gardens exist throughout the Escalante River watershed. These features occur where water, trapped in large, sandstone aquifers, discharges at the surface along canyon walls or in alcoves formed by the action of the spring water. Springs and seeps occur in a variety of forms and types and may provide water for livestock on public lands, contribute to the maintenance of flow in larger streams and sustain unique assemblages of plants and animals. The Escalante River watershed in particular is richly endowed with springs and seeps, including some of the largest on the Colorado Plateau. These unique ecosystems occupy a small portion of the landscape, yet they harbor important sources of biological diversity across the entire region.
Despite the ecological importance of these unique ecosystems, very little is known about their hydrologic properties (for example, the source, frequency, volume and quality of discharged water), or the plants and animals associated with and dependent upon these landscape features. The Escalante River Watershed Partnership is conducting a comprehensive inventory of these important ecosystems along with more specific information on each new spring located. This information will provide: 1) the extent of spring resources within the watershed; 2) a baseline for evaluating future condition of these ecosystems; and 3) identification of particular springs worthy of more detailed study, such as those that support high levels of biological diversity or rare species. Similar surveys are being conducted by the Forest Service at higher elevations in the watershed.
To aid in this significant inventory task, a student at the Digit Lab, University of Utah, used distinct color signatures from vegetation in satellite and aerial imagery, along with digital topographic information and known spring locations, to develop a Spatial Model that predicted the likely presence of spring and riparian ecosystems within the Escalante River watershed. Although the remote sensing model results appear promising, the predicted presence of a spring ecosystem needs to be verified in the field. To assist with field verification, a Validation Survey was developed to allow volunteers, equipped with tablets or iPads, to navigate to a potential spring site and verify the presence or absence of a spring as well as record key features of verified springs. Once this survey is completed, all field data will be uploaded and stored in a central database that is tied to an account managed by the Escalante River Watershed Partnership. Ultimately, data from the Escalante springs inventory may be added to the Spring Stewardship Institute’s national database, which is part of a larger effort to catalog springs throughout the United States. Results of this inventory will provide the first adequate accounting of where these important sources of water are located within the watershed, their current condition, as well as any human use or disturbances (if any). Follow-up measurements at selected sites will assess their capacity for water production and the quality of the water produced. Ultimately, long-term monitoring of ecologically important sites within the watershed will provide insight as to how ecological conditions change in response to large-scale shifts in factors like precipitation and temperature. The Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems: Level 1 Inventory Field Guide, developed by the US Forest Service, will be utilized to ensure uniform inventory and monitoring protocols throughout the watershed.