Drought, little snow leave Grand Canyon springs high and dry

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The springs that flow inside Grand Canyon National Park are running dry.

Meager snowpacks and an ongoing drought have contributed to a decline in many of the springs that feed the leaves and grass along the canyon walls, officials inside the park said last week.

Vaceys Paradise, a perennial spring in Marble Canyon, used to have water streaming out of three or four holes in the canyon, National Park Service hydrologist Ben Tobin said. But a decrease in base flows in the last two years has led to water discharging from one hole, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

"If you don't have that snowmelt that recharges the aquifer, then the base discharge of the spring is going to steadily decline," Tobin said.

Springs everywhere in northern Arizona are showing visible effects from the recent lack of snow, experts say. Ephemeral springs depend on shallow aquifers, which are affected by climate changes.

The aquifers that flow sporadically throughout the year account for one-third to one-fourth of the region's springs, said Larry Stevens, director of Springs Stewardship Institute at the Museum of Northern Arizona. If the climate goes dry for years, ephemeral springs can stop flowing altogether, Stevens said. That is something that park officials don't want to see happen with perennial streams like Vaceys Paradise.

The repercussions of springs running dry or declining in their flow could be enormous. Springs are hubs of biodiversity that support all kinds of life, Stevens said. There are hundreds to thousands of species that are dependent on springs, he said. These include 10 percent of endangered species native to the Southwest.

Vaceys Paradise provides nourishment for a sprawling carpet of mosses, grass and shrubs. It supports species, including the endangered Kanab ambersnail.

"That's the big concern is if we go from having perennial systems that have sustained unique flora and fauna, if it goes from being perennial to ephemeral, the question is are those unique systems going to survive?" Tobin said. "My initial thought is they're going to have a hard time existing."


Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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