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Groundwater-Dependent Ecosystems

A forest wetland meadow with green grass, flowering plants, and a tall evergreen forest in the background.
What are Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems?

Groundwater-dependent ecosystems are ecosystems that are supported by groundwater. These places include springs and seeps, caves and karst systems, and deep-rooted plant communities (phreatophytes). In many cases, rivers, wetlands, and lakes are also included. Where groundwater meets the surface, a unique community of plants and animals flourish. A wide variety of rare, threatened, and endangered species call these places home.

Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Benefits

Groundwater-dependent fauna (including humans) rely on groundwater as a source of drinking water. Groundwater, as river baseflow or discharge to springs, is an important source of water across much of the country, particularly in the Southwestern United States and other areas with semiarid climate.

  A man with a female child holding fish in their hands


Groundwater-dependent ecosystems have many other values, including the following:

  • Water-quality benefits. Microfauna in groundwater help cleanup contaminants and may play an important role in maintaining the health of surface waters.

  • Biodiversity value. Many species depend on habitats maintained by groundwater discharge. They add to the ecological diversity of a region and can be indicators of the overall biological health of a system. Some plants and animals that depend on groundwater are rare, unique, or threatened.

  • Archeological and social value. Some sites, such as springs, may have cultural significance, especially for Native Americans, and can have csocial, esthetic, and economic values.