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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.

Hands-on education

 

"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."

Leaders in sustainability

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.