Seeking Sustainable Solutions
According to Abe Springer, one of the Southwest’s
foremost experts in environmental science, three major challenges face the region
in the coming years: climate change, water quantity, and population management.
"There is no shortage of solutions," says Springer, "but we need
more creative solutions."
Springer teaches hydrogeology and applied
geology at Northern Arizona University. Since joining the university in 1994,
he and his students have been actively researching Arizona's finite groundwater
resources and searching for critical answers to the region's growing
challenges. In particular, Springer has developed a system for cataloging,
assessing, and restoring the health of Arizona's natural springs. Vital for
rural ecosystems, these natural water outlets provide sanctuary for a high
level of diverse species. Springer is also a technical advisor to the Verde
Valley, Coconino Plateau, and Yavapai watershed groups, which play a critical
role in shaping Arizona's water management policies and laws.
"For our students to be successful at finding real,
sustainable solutions, they need to understand human interactions with the
built and natural environment," says Springer. Comprehending this
connection is most effectively achieved with hands-on field work and research.
For example, some of Springer's undergraduate and graduate students are
currently conducting baseline recordings of groundwater on the North Rim of the
Grand Canyon, the primary supply for the National Park and its facilities. They
are also conducting an ecological flow assessment on the Verde River to
determine the effects of long-term irrigation and groundwater pumping. These
collaborative projects bring together researchers and resource managers with
the goal of developing better water management solutions for the region.
Springer is confident that the university will be a
leader in addressing many of these critical issues. "The university had a
strong sustainability curriculum long before it was popular," Springer
says. "Our location and strong reputation in the earth and environmental
sciences uniquely position us to facilitate project work between students and
land and resource management agencies, such as the Arizona Department of Water
Resources and the National Park Service. This is very evident in our
collaborative work through the university's Ecological
Restoration Institute on watershed aspects of the Four
Forests Restoration Initiative. Our students will have the valuable
experience of translating the science to appropriate decision-making processes
needed for shaping public policy."
As Southwest temperatures and populations
continue to rise, natural resource issues will be at the forefront of
environmental research and political discussion. Springer, other members of the
Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability faculty, and students will lead
the way—studying the effects of climate change, and devising critical solutions
for land and water management so that Arizona’s unique landscapes will be
maintained for generations to come.