Seep and Spring Wetlands

Description:
Seeps and springs are areas where groundwater is discharged onto the land surface. They are common throughout Montana and are found on nearly any terrain including mountains, hillsides, and prairie. On floodplains of any size, seeps and springs are common on toe slopes or elevated terraces on the floodplain edge. Seeps and springs are also common on mountain hillsides and in mountain valleys where moist meadows often have little or no running water. They are less common in the prairie portion of the state. The abrupt boundary between upland and wetland vegetation often makes these areas readily recognizable. Discharge rates vary over time depending on groundwater supplies.1

Function and Values:
Seeps and springs are important discharge points for ground and subsurface flows. Depending on the vegetative composition of the seep, they can provide important habitat for variety of wildlife species, including migratory passerines, game birds and amphibians. Springs are important in a variety of ways. In some instances springs flow year round and the wetland vegetation stays green providing a water source and forage. Springs also function to maintain the base flows and levels in streams and rivers.

Photos of Seep and Spring Wetlands:

Spring wetland near Lima Reservoir
Photo by: Lynda Saul
"Spring wetland near Lima Reservoir"

Small spring wetland in the Flint Creek Mountain, Southwestern Montana
Photo by Lynda Saul
"Small spring wetland in the Flint Creek Mountains, southwestern Montana"

Spring Wetland in the Ruby Valley in Southwest Montana
Photo by Larry Urban
"Spring Wetland in the Ruby Valley in southwest Montana"

Distribution Map of Seep and Spring Wetlands:
Distribution Map of Seep and Spring Wetlands

Potential Stressors:

Converting Wetlands to Open Water:

Creation of a pond through excavating and expanding wetland habitats.
Photo by: USFWS
"Creation of a pond through excavating and expanding wetland habitats."

Groundwater Withdrawal: "Groundwater and our ability to use it is an important resource for consumption and as irrigation for growing food crops. While these uses are beneficial to society, excessive withdrawals can lower the ground water table enough that spring and seeps no longer flow."

Center pivot agricultural systems in Sheridan County
Photo by: Unknown
"Center pivot agricultural systems in Sheridan County, northeast Montana."

Conversion to Stock Tanks:

Spring piped to serve as a stock tank for livestock
Photo by: Bryce Maxell
"Spring piped to serve as a stock tank for livestock."

Reference:

1 Hansen, P. L. et al.1995. Classification and Management of Montana's riparian and Wetland Sites. Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station. University of Montana, Missoula, MT.