National Park Service

Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN)

CHDN springs icon symbol

Springs Monitoring

Smith Spring
Smith Spring

Inventory Reports

Monitoring Reports

Protocol Documents

Vital Signs Included in Protocol

  • Surface Water Dynamics
  • Persistence of Springs
  • Surface Water Quantity
  • Aquatic Invertebrates


Project Contacts

Kirsten Gallo, Program Manager
Chihuahuan Desert Network

Cheryl McIntyre, Physical Scientist
Chihuahuan Desert Network

Project Cooperators

Sonoran Desert Network


With the exception of water provided by snow and rain, the majority of water for wildlife and most humans over the vast expanse of the desert southwest is derived from groundwater and springs. Springs support aquatic and riparian systems where groundwater reaches the land surface. Springs ecosystems are small, relatively rare, "biodiversity hot spots" in arid lands, because they support a substantial proportion of aquatic, riparian, and terrestrial species. Springs in arid lands are sparsely distributed on the landscape and critical to the persistence of native biota and many endemic species. As a consequence of their lengthy isolation and long-term persistence, many arid-land springs support plants and animals that depend on the spring and are unique to that spring.

Monitoring Objectives

  1. Surface Water Dynamics: Determine status, variability, and long-term trend in spring discharge at selected springs.
  2. Surface Water Quality: Determine status and long-term trend in core water quality parameters at selected springs.
  3. Aquatic Invertebrates: Determine long-term trend in community composition of macroinvertebrates at selected springs.
  4. Persistence of Springs: Determine status and long-term trends in the persistence of selected springs.
  5. Riparian Vegetation: Determine the status and trend in common spring vegetation richness (including non-native taxa), and at selected springs the extent of area of common spring plant species and abundance of common spring species.


All springs: Water depth, wetted extent, number of days spring is dry, natural and anthropogenic disturbance

At selected springs: flow rate, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, benthic macroinvertebrates (community composition by taxa and/or functional group), riparian plant taxa richness, % vegetative cover for common perennial plants and perennial plant lifeforms, and % frequency of uncommon perennial plants and annual plant lifeforms

Management Applications

Understanding patterns in the amount and quality of water in springs as well as in associated aquatic biota will help us to gauge the overall status of water resources in CHDN parks. In addition to being important surface waters themselves, many springs feed tinajas and other critical surface waters, and provide a measure of interaction between groundwater and surface water. These waters are among the most restricted habitats for focal and threatened plant and animal species. As such, they are important to resource managers. In some cases, identifying the condition of springs is also important for reasons of human health and safety.

Protocol Status

This protocol is under development. An inventory of springs was conducted 2010–2012. Pilot studies testing field sampling techniques are ongoing.

Status and Trends

Status and trend information is not yet available.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster