National Park Service

Sonoran Desert I&M Network (SODN)

Seeps, Springs, & Tinajas

Tinaja graphic

Protocol Summary

Seeps, Springs, and Tinajas


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 interface between groundwater and surface water, and serve as important water sources for park fauna and flora. The SODN defines "seeps" as restricted subsurface emanations (with surface water not always present). "Springs" are reliable perennial and quasi-perennial surface water sources. Tinajas, or "small jars" in Spanish, are perennial and quasi-perennial surface waters found in naturally occurring bedrock catchments. They are fed by springs and/or precipitation.

Parks Monitored

Chiricahua NM, Coronado NMem, Fort Bowie NHS, Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, Montezuma Castle NM, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Saguaro NP, Tonto NM, Tuzigoot NM

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.

Potential Measures

  1. Water depth (from pressure transducer or tape), wetted area (grid), soil moisture (grid): all seeps and springs.
  2. Number of days spring is dry and wetted extent: all seeps and springs
  3. Benthic macroinvertebrates: Community composition  by taxa and/or functional group at selected springs
  4. Core water quality parameters: Water temperature (°C), dissolved oxygen (mg/L water), instantaneous flow (cfs), specific conductance (microSiemens per cm °C), pH (su), turbidity (NTU) at selected springs.
  5. Alkalinity: CaCO3 (mg/L water)
  6. Primary nutrients: Concentrations of total N and total P (mg/L) at selected springs
  7. Biological condition: Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in mg/L; E. coli in most probable number of colony-forming units /100ml(MPN/100ml) at selected springs
  8. Metals: Concentrations of metals (mg/L) that are ecologically significant or possibly impact human health at selected springs
  9. Riparian plant communities: Taxa richness (all springs)and community similarity measures over time and space at selected springs.
  10. Riparian plant species and lifeforms: % vegetative cover for common (≥10% absolute cover) perennial plants and perennial plant lifeforms; % frequency of uncommon (≥10% absolute cover) perennial plants and annual plant lifeforms at selected springs.

Management Applications

Understanding patterns in the amount and quality of water in seeps, springs, and tinajas, as well as in associated aquatic biota, will help us to gauge the overall status of water resources in SODN parks. In addition to being important surface waters themselves, many seeps and 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 seeps and springs is also important for reasons of human health and safety.

Protocol Status

This protocol is under development. An inventory of springs seeps and tinajas was completed in 2010–2011. Pilot studies testing riparian vegetation monitoring techniques are ongoing.

Status & Trends

Status and trend information is not yet available.

Project Cooperators

Chihuahuan Desert Network

Project Contacts

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster