Groundwater is the source of all perennial surface water in the Chihuahuan Desert, including springs, streams, and tinajas. Groundwater availability is critical for plant community structure and productivity; nutrient, water, and energy flows; and wildlife. In many parts of the American Southwest, long-term drought and human development have led to significant declines in groundwater levels at local and regional scales.
Many network parks are located in areas where routine groundwater monitoring by other agencies does not occur. All of our parks, except Amistad National Recreation Area, obtain potable water from groundwater wells. Groundwater declines often occur gradually in response to the combined effects of “distributed point sources,” such as wells and springs, and “nonpoint sources,” such as climate, vegetation, and streams. These factors make long-term monitoring extremely important.
Knowing about the status and trends in groundwater levels helps park managers to work with regional partners to conserve resources and plan for future needs. For instance, managers can address reductions in water infiltration and storage with management actions aimed at soil conservation, fire management, and recharge enhancement. Groundwater monitoring also allows managers to develop conceptual models needed to better understand actual or potential local impacts of groundwater pumping.