Playas Provide Clean Water for Future Generations

A healthy playa lake is a primary way groundwater is replenished by surface water. And a playa with a perimeter plant buffer traps sediments and improves the quality of water as it moves to the aquifer below. When we can take steps to increase the amount of recharge to the aquifer by conserving and restoring […]

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A Playa Rehab on the West Texas Plains

Mark Hilliard of Hale County, Texas, bought the native grassland on which his playa sits from family members, then protected the playa and its grassland buffer with a permanent Wetlands Reserve Easement. He couldn’t be more happy with NRCS assistance removing sediment from the playa to improve its function and create bird habitat. Learn what’s involved in negotiating a perpetual easement.

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Playas Provide Direct Recharge Benefits to Landowners

When we started irrigating the High Plains in the 1950s, the Ogallala was understood to be that vast, virtually endless supply of water. When the water table dropped, we thought the groundwater could flow unimpeded from one area to another. But the groundwater of the Ogallala aquifer really doesn’t flow laterally with much speed. Playa […]

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Clovis Looks to Playas to Help Supply Future Municipal Water

The city of Clovis, New Mexico, is taking an innovative approach to ensuring its future water supply — playa conservation. And what this city of 38,000 is doing might become a model for other municipalities on the High Plains. The city government put a million dollars of economic development funds toward playa conservation. Most immediately […]

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A Playa Rehabilitation Story

New Mexico rancher John Wood has a 160-200 acre playa, named Buffalo Lake, in his pasture. Several years ago, The Nature Conservancy’s Tish McDaniel consulted Wood and assisted in restoring his playa. Wood says he’s now witnessing larger numbers of migrating birds, and thinks other wildlife have returned.

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Filling Pits in Playas on National Grasslands

Many playas on federal grasslands in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, New Mexico and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles have pitted playas. There’s a cooperative effort underway to rehab some of these playas. Restored playas mean shallow water will return. When that happens, plants will burst forth, providing seeds the birds like, and attracting insects, a good source of protein.

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What’s the Problem With Pits?

Healthy, functioning playas provide important habitat for ducks, geese and other wildlife, and are areas of focused recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer. But many playas have been modified through tilling and pitting. Filling a pit allows rainwater and runoff to reach the large cracks in a dry playa floor – which is essential for recharge to occur – rather than collecting in the pit. The shallow water that spreads across the playa also allows plants and insects to flourish, which in turn provides important food and habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

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What Are Playas?

We grew up on the High Plains thinking of those occasionally muddy pasture depressions as “buffalo wallows” or “mud holes.” Turns out, scientists are learning those playas play a significant role in recharging the Ogallala aquifer. They are the most numerous wetland in the region, more than 75,000 of them, and they’re an important source of water — both for people and wildlife.

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Playa Renovation on Haynes Farm in Colorado

Larry Haynes, a farmer from Holyoke, Colorado, talks about putting land “to its best use.” For decades he attempted to farm playas in his fields, but said he “rarely” was able to harvest crops grown in those wetlands. So he renovated and planted large buffers around them, thus putting the playas “to their best use” as wildlife habitat.

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Conserving Playas Provides Lush Grazing and Bird Habitat

Shaw Family Farms had several playas that often made farming the field a challenging proposition. The Shaws fenced-off 80 acres, developed those resident playas by restoring natural hydrology and planting grass buffers. They further enhanced the parcel by planting a variety of grasses and forbs to attract bugs and birds, then put the land in a permanent conservation easement. Their cows and calves now graze the wetland parcel, and bugs and birds are attracted to the forbs and seeds.

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