The Environmental Research Laboratory Link to The Univeristy of Arizona website link to the Department of Soil Water and Environmental Science homepage link to about erl link to personnell link to research link to The Water Quality Center link to The WQC Laborataory link to the WQC Water Village link to tours


Desert Ecosystem Restoration and Maintenance

Photo: A human created wetland in the delta of the Colorado River, Mexico

To restore critical desert habitats so they support higher ecosystem functions

Critical habitats include wetlands, riparian corridors and natural desert ecosystems

Research Projects:
Conservation of the lower Colorado River; restoration of abandoned farmland; revegetation of abandoned mine sites.


The desert is a fragile ecosystem. These projects attempt to return human-impacted soils and landscapes to native conditions. Phyto- (plant) remediation (remedy) is the use of plants to remove or stabilize soil contaminants. We emphasize the use of native vegetation to remediate a wide variety of chemicals in the environment.

Some of the projects are listed below:

  • NAWCA: National Association for Wetlands Conservation (USFWS) has sponsored revegetation in mesquite bosques, cottonwood groves, and wetlands of the Colorado River.
  • Phragmites: Ecophysiological experiments to discover why an introduced genotype of common reed is spreading through the east coast salt marshes (USFWS, USGS).
  • Redhawk Power Plant: Revegetation of abandoned farm land.
  • Monument Valley & Tuba City revegetation projects: these use saltbush plants to remove nitrates from contaminated soil at former uranium mill sites on Navajo land (DOE)
  • Stabilizing mine tailings on the San Pedro River with Big Sacaton Grass (BLM)
  • Twentynine Palms Water District: Saltbush plants used to absorb effluent from a flouride removal treatment plant.

Revegetation along the Colorado River
Photo: Regeneration of native trees on the Lower Colorado River through the release of pulse floods.


Photo: A mine site abandoned over 100 years ago on the San Pedro River, AZ.


Remote sensing studies detect changes in the Earth’s surface using satellites, aerial photographs and other non-contact forms of data collection. We specialize in monitoring the human effect on
the Sonoran Desert.

Locations we have monitored include:

  • Colorado River Delta
  • EvapoTranspiration Research
  • Andrade Mesa Wetlands of the
  • All American Canal
  • Natural Wells (Pozos)
  • Estuaries of Baja and Sonora, Mexico
  • Buffel Grass Studies
Remote Sensing
Photo: Buffel Grass pastures in Mexico. This plant was introduced to increase range productivity but has invaded natural habitats.


Photo: Regenerated native trees on the Lower Colorado River

Photo: A man made wetland in Mexico.


Buffel Grass

Photo: Buffel grass, an exotic African range grass introduced to the Sonoran desert.

Estuaries in Mexico

Photo: Estuary destruction in the Gulf of California.


A GIS organizes spatially-distributed data into maps, charts and projections that reveal relationships among interacting factors. We have created GIS data-bases to aid in conservation and restoration projects. The photos show examples of mapping projects for environmental restoration.

Some of the locations we have mapped include:

  • Topock Marsh on the Colorado River
  • Colorado River Delta
  • Limitrophe
  • Riparian Reach
  • Saltcedar Zone
  • Cienega de Santa Clara
  • Estuaries of Baja and Sonora, Mexico
  • Montague Island Saltgrass
  • Ironwood Forest National Monument
Wetland Locator Map

Colorado River Delta

GIS layers near Morelos Dam



The University of Arizona Environmental Research Laboratory
2601 E. Airport Drive Tucson, Arizona 85756 (520) 626-3322