With aquifer water from underneath sere desert cement, sometimes only the slightest trace will show as a sole patch of green. This Hypocrene-type spring happens when high evaporation and low discharge combine. Groundwater is close to the surface but there is no flow. Surviving plants have adapted to long-term drought.
Finding a desert marsh meant survival when crossing arid country to those on foot, on horseback, or to migrating birds. Occupying only 2% of the landscape, they wield a remarkable influence on the environment; each one supports a unique suite of plants and animals. Once common in the desert, European settlers drained 95% of them by the 20th century. Being on private land protects this cienega.
11,000 years ago, this carbonite limestone mound collapsed, revealing an underground spring that produces 1.5 million gallons of water daily. Today it contains the highest number of unique species found in North America. Inhabited from 600 to 1400 AD preColumbian Hohokan and Sinaguan, (without water) peoples farmed the surrounding area. In Yavapai tribal myth Montezuma’s Well is where they entered into this world. The Well continues to be sacred to the Yavapai, Apache, Hopi, and Navajo peoples who consider this enduring spring water in the parched landscape, a giver of life.
As the climate warmed after the last Ice Age, isolated marshes remained, creating distinct islands with endemic and unique variations of species many which came into existence in this area 10 to 20 thousand years ago. They adapted to brackish water and frequent drought. Human interference - adding non-native plants and fish - threatens their survival.
A pristine series of travertine springs and pools are managed and safeguarded for their endemic diversity by allowing few visitors into the area. They are protected at this time, from the expanding nearby communities water needs by their location on an active military base.
A Helocrene-type spring creates a diffuse wetland marsh. It survives on the bottom of Arizona's largest natural lake which is mostly dry during a drought year.
Red slurry is a fire retardant dropped from planes during forest fires. Made of mainly ammonium phosphate it is not supposed to be sprayed near water, being toxic to plant and animal life. The director of Springs Stewardship Institute believes the cause of this bright red color was an accidental drop during a practice flight. It takes several years to resolve.
Fossil water is made of ice melt from the last Ice Age. Collected in underground aquifers it travels through rock layers until it finds a place to surface, sometimes very far from its' original source. Isolated spring pools remained as the region became hotter and dryer. Descendants of prehistoric Pupfish continue to survive. Today, due to steep human water use drawing down the aquifer, these ancients are endangered.
Immigrants moving West journeyed from spring to spring, often founding towns at spring sites. Anecdotal evidence exists of substantial declining flow since first measured in 1979.
A large cottonwood tree can be an indicator of a shallow aquifer. Shallow aquifers are frequently used for municipal wells because of their easy access close to the surface. This perennial spring has been reconfigured, covered with concrete and is being used for local municipal water supply.
Local residents depended on this one time spring for their domestic needs. Over the next hill, Peabody Energy Company operated a coal strip-mine where they withdrew 3 millions gallons of water from the aquifer daily. After 40 years the company’s extraction permits were revoked due to the negative impact on the quality and quantity of the remaining water.
Hot artesian waters served as sacred healing sites for indigenous people in this valley. If warring tribes ended up at a spring, hostilities ceased until they finished their soak and left the area. Part of the last remaining intact oasis in the Mojave Desert this spring was largely undisturbed. In the 1960’s industrial agriculture and mining interests began aggressive water removal, (mining). The majority of the water was diverted, destroying many unique species. Just prior to beginning excavation for a 34,000 unit housing development the Nature Conservancy bought the oasis and donated it to the National Park Service.
Dry cattle tank during a drought year. A clamor for bottled ‘spring’ water, industrial agriculture, cattle grazing and unchecked domestic growth put increasing demands on the biologically critical ecosystems that aquifers support.
Mountain men and Native Americans described this spring as ‘gushing, transparent sparkling water. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps put in a flow capturing storage tank and underground pipes for nearby irrigation. Expanding domestic water needs of the subdivision of Ft Valley draws the water table lower.
This spring water is captured to create a pond for use in dry times, as well as a refuge for birds and wildlife. The high water mark shows that the level has been low for some time. Culturally significant to the Navajo, this was the place they returned to when released in 1868 from their forced captivity at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
Desert springs can be the only water for hundreds of miles. It's a faucet in the desert which can't be turned off. Artesian water, makes a thunderous noise as it bursts from a pipe by the side of a road out onto the surface. This spring is a local water supply for people living in the area.
From the 1940s through the 1980s, the open-pit mines on the Navajo Nation supplied uranium to the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Many of these mines have not been cleaned up. Combining unregulated water quality and potential for uranium contamination has had a serious health impact of the local residents who use this water.
Heavily manipulated hillslope spring piped into storage tank sits at the base of Sierra Sinagua - mountain without water.
In the 1800’s this spring's flow measurement was 500 gallons of water per minute. Successive alterations continued to reduce the flow until in the drought of 2003/4 it fell below 14 gallons. Today it is maintained by pumping well water back into the spring. Local housing development demands for water make the lifespan of the springs unpredictable.
Ranchers lease public lands for their cattle who trample springs and foul the water.
During the 2003/4 drought the water table became so low this spring dried up. While the drought has ended increasing local development water use has kept levels too low to support its return.
Spring water supported abundant wildlife, a riparian forest and a fish filled river attracting human settlement here since 2,100 BCE. As the population kept expanding, extensive water use for ranching, large scale irrigated farming and home building drained the aquifer. The last fish were gone by the 1940’s.