Water — both quantity and quality — are extremely important to the people living in western Kansas, and water conservation is often a hot topic of conversation. For Andi Bauck’s fourth grade class, that conversation starts early.
“As individuals, as community members, every aspect of our economies, our lives, is dependent on water and if our supply out here is solely the aquifer, then we have to be diligent about caring about it,” Bauck said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult for people to survive, let alone thrive, out here.”
Bauck partnered with Abe Lollar, a Ducks Unlimited biologist in western Kansas, to create a lesson on the Ogallala Aquifer and water conservation for her students at Wichita County Elementary.
“If playas are a part of groundwater recharge, then it should be a part of the conversation.”
The students learned about the aquifer and how it supplies water to their towns, studied maps of the water table in the county and surrounding areas, and analyzed their individual water use.
They talked about irrigation being one of the biggest draws on the aquifer and different farming techniques that are meant to conserve water. Then they watched a video on the important role playas have in recharging the depleting aquifer. Playas are round, shallow depressions at the lowest point of a watershed that collect water from rainstorms and run-off, and are a primary source of recharge to the Ogallala aquifer.
“If I am helping students to become conscious about natural resources and how to use them wisely, part of that is understanding every step. If playas are a part of groundwater recharge, then it should be a part of the conversation,” Bauck said. “The more people talk about them and understand the role that they play, I think the better; because when we understand how things work, we’re more likely to save them.”
For the lesson, Bauck even visited a restored playa and collected soil samples, then added well water to the jar, which the students studied for signs of life — particularly fairy shrimp. No shrimp showed up but they did get to see a life cycle of a mosquito, which Bauck said still has scientific value for the students, especially combined with the rest of the lesson.
“Overall they’re just becoming so aware of the world around them,” she said. “This is one more piece that they’re now becoming keenly aware of, and when we know better, we tend to do better.”
This is where Lollar came in, too, talking with the students about what a healthy playa can provide to the aquifer compared to an unhealthy playa. He described how a four-acre playa sends an acre-foot of water toward the aquifer each year, which is more than enough water to supply a couple of families for a year.
“We are showing people the potential … and how we can move the needle — and playa conservation is part of that conservation strategy,” Lollar said, adding that the strategy also includes irrigation techniques to reduce water usage and soil techniques to keep moisture in the ground.
“It’s good to get into the kids’ heads that this is a resource that isn’t going to be around forever…. They’ll be the ones taking over the farm or the local business and having to deal with the situation.”
Lollar works with various partners in the region, including Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pheasants Forever, and local Conservation Districts to meet with landowners and producers and share information on playa restoration and other conservation practices and to help them plan and complete playa restoration work.
“As far as educating current producers, it’s important because they’re laying the framework for future generations,” he said. “They’re setting an example for their kids and their kids’ kids, and it’ll be a ripple effect down the line.”