Playa Study Looks at Recharge Rates in Farmed Playas

Photo: A playa instrumented station on Ehmke’s playa in Lane County, Kansas. (Bill Johnson)

A new study led by the Kansas Geological Survey will help to improve our understanding of how farming playas affects recharge rates and inform best practices for playa management.

“We’re hoping to get a better understanding of how our different land use practices are helping the health of the High Plains aquifer and get information on the ecosystem services of playas, too,” said Randy Stotler, an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, Adjunct Professor at the University of Kansas and lead researcher on the project. “I hope it will be used by landowners and land use managers to find the most appropriate strategies for how to treat playas.”

The researchers want to learn how recharge rates differ across different land uses by studying a variety of playas — including some that have never been farmed, some that have had restoration work completed and some that have been farmed and plowed over a long period of time.

During the two-year project, they will first look at the ecology of the different playas and compare biodiversity. Next, they will determine how much sediment fill is in the playa across the various land uses. And finally, they will collect a core sample from the surface of the playa down to the water table and look at the water content of the core throughout. This data will be used to help determine the rate at which water flows. Following the research, the data will also be used to create simulations across the landscape. The researchers are aiming to have results available Fall 2022.

Not only will this inform playa management, but information gathered through this research could also lead to increased interest in playa conservation and restoration — and change the conversation in Kansas about future water for communities.

“Playas and how relevant they are for recharge and water use in the western High Plains is being talked about more,” Stotler said. “Having information that is about Kansas and is more local is beneficial for seeing the relevance of playas in the state.”

Posted: September 24, 2021