By Dos Aguas
“How old is your water?” That’s not a common question among water users, or even in water education, yet it’s high on the list for Dr. Jennifer McIntosh. She’s an Associate Professor in Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona whose focus is the elemental and isotopic chemistry of water. For her, estimating the age of water can be a key tool in understanding the structure and functioning of aquifers. In the Cienega Basin in Southern Arizona, her hydrology group is using spectrographic and chemical analyses to research the “signature” of water flows, including the age of the water, and ultimately to expand knowledge of how the hydrology of this basin functions. Cienega Creek is a special and noteworthy place, one of the few remaining perennial streams in Southern Arizona which has been the subject of heated debate and detailed study for nearly two decades.
Could a proposed new copper pit mine in Southern Arizona damage water resources in the Cienega Basin, either above or below ground? For years data have been gathered, models have been created, permits have been requested and reviewed, and sometimes granted. The discussion continues, although the academic issues are on a slower timeline than the political.
Photo of Santa Rita Mountains viewed from Las Cienegas grasslands by Rick Bowman.