Springs, Seeps, and Tinajas

Tinaja waters, Saguaro National Park


Seeps, springs, and tinajas are critical surface water sources in the arid and semi-arid Sonoran Desert and Apache Highlands ecoregions. They are the primary connection between groundwater and surface water, and are important water sources for park plants and animals.

"Seeps" emit water from underground that does not always reach the surface. "Springs" are reliable perennial and quasi-perennial sources of surface water. Tinajas, or "small jars" in Spanish, are perennial and quasi-perennial surface waters found in bedrock. They are fed by springs and/or precipitation. Many seeps and springs feed tinajas and other surface waters.

Knowing about the status and trends of seeps, springs, and tinajas can provide early warnings to park managers about potential threats to focal and threatened plant and animal species that rely on the water sources for survival. In some cases, identifying the condition of seeps and springs is also important for reasons of human health and safety. Knowing whether to expect surface water to be available at a given site is also important to park visitors planning trips into the backcountry.

Understanding patterns in the amount and quality of water in seeps, springs, and tinajas—and their associated plants and animals—will help the Sonoran Desert Network to evaluate the overall status of water resources in network parks.

Measurements and Objectives

At selected sites, the network measures:
  • Water depth
  • Number of days spring is dry and wetted extent
  • Benthic macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects)
  • Core water quality parameters: water temperature, dissolved oxygen, instantaneous flow, specific conductance, pH, and turbidity
  • Alkalinity
  • Primary nutrients (concentrations of total N and total P)
  • Biological condition (biochemical oxygen demand, E. coli)
  • Metal concentrations
  • Riparian plant communities
  • Riparian plant species and lifeforms

The objectives of this monitoring are to determine the status and long-term trends in:

  • spring discharge
  • core water quality parameters
  • community composition of macroinvertebrates
  • persistence of water
  • richness, extent, and abundance of common spring vegetation

For more information, contact Evan Gwilliam, Aquatic Ecologist, Sonoran Desert Network, or Cheryl McIntyre, Physical Scientist, Chihuahuan Desert Network.

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    Springs Monitoring Reports

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    Last updated: November 30, 2018