Agua Caliente spring in Southern Arizona appears to be a natural oasis in the desert. Ducks and wading birds rely on the spring and its surrounding ponds as a source of water and food, but a decade long drought is threatening the existence of the riparian habitat. The spring now flows at about five gallons per minute, well below historic levels of up to 50 gallons per minute. One spring-fed pond has dried up and another is kept filled, not by the natural spring flow but by a well, dug by managers of Agua Caliente Park. An additional source of water for the spring is the Central Arizona Project or CAP. The CAP, which transports water from the Colorado River, is one of Southern Arizona’s major sources of irrigation and drinking water.
It is generally understood, according to Adrian Armstrong, that water environments need protecting. However, seldom does anyone question the basis for that assumption. Armstrong makes an argument that riparian environments have value beyond human uses and it is only when all users, be those human or otherwise, are considered is it possible to develop a true “water ethic.” This is an argument that would certainly resonate with park managers in Southern Arizona where a small portion of CAP water, designated for human uses, is being diverted to maintain wildlife habitat in Aqua Caliente Park.