Ephemeral wetlands critical to Ogallala Aquifer recharge

Playa lakes, sometimes referred to as buffalo wallows or lagoons, are naturally-occurring depressions in western Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains. Many landowners often see them as wet spots that flood crops from year to year, often producing little or no yield. Landowners may ask how playa lakes can benefit them when they are just troublesome wet spots.
One benefit results from the link between playa lakes and the Ogallala Aquifer. More than 95 percent of water pumped from the aquifer is used for irrigation, making it the driving force behind agriculture economies in western Kansas. Research has shown that playa lakes are the primary source of recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies six states. The United States Geological Service has found that water recharge into the aquifer underneath a playa is about 3 inches per year, whereas upland recharge is only .003 to .03 inches.

There are approximately 60,000 playas in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. Throughout this region, playa lakes average 17 acres, comprising more than 1 million acres of land. This results in considerable groundwater recharge.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a new program that aims to restore and conserve these small, isolated wetlands in western and central Kansas. This program is the Wetland Restoration, Non-floodplain Initiative (CP23A). In addition to this program, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) has developed a new program to make enrollment in the USDA program more attractive. The Playa Lake Signup Incentive Program or (PLSIP) offers an additional one-time payment of $15 per acre for those landowners who enroll in the USDA program.

Once playas are enrolled, farmers will no longer have to worry about farming them. This will not only save time and money, it will help recharge the aquifer and preserve wildlife in the region. Once restored and buffered by native grass, playa lakes offer not only ground water recharge, but prime habitat for waterfowl and upland birds.
For more information on these programs, contact a local USDA Service Center or KDWP Landowner Incentive Program biologists Mike Peterson (620-227-8609) or Chris Berens (785-462-3367).

For more information on playa lakes, visit the websites of the Playa Lakes Joint Venture or the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams .