PLAYAS PROVIDE CLEAN WATER|WILDLIFE HABITAT|A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

Playas provide clean water for Kansans and habitat for wildlife. By conserving playas, you can help them continue to work for Kansas—for generations to come.

Playa Benefits YOUR OPTIONS
A Temporary Lake or Pond

What is a playa?

Playas—also called mud holes, buffalo wallows, and lagoons—are relatively small, round, shallow depressions found primarily in the western Great Plains. Their basins are lined with clay soil, which collects and holds water from rainfall and runoff, creating temporary lakes.

Wet-Dry Cycle is Essential

The extreme wet-dry cycle that playas experience is the lifeblood of their ecosystem. When dry, the clay soils contract and form large cracks in the bottom of the playa basin. Plant seeds and invertebrate eggs from the last wet period lay dormant in the soil, waiting for the next large rainfall to germinate and hatch. When the rain comes, the first flush of water runs into the playa and through the cracks, beginning its journey to the underlying aquifer. As the runoff continues, the clay soils expand; the cracks seal and the playa begins to fill with water. Wetland plants and invertebrates complete their life-cycle, and birds and mammals use the playa for food, water, and shelter.

Hot Spot for Wildlife

In this grassland landscape, playas are the main source of water, providing much-needed rest stops and food to migrating waterfowl and shorebirds as well as resident prairie birds. Playas are the center of biodiversity on the plains—supporting 185 bird species, 450 plant species, 13 amphibian species, and 37 mammal species at some point in their life-cycle.

Threats to Playas

The greatest continuing threat to playas is culturally-accelerated sediment accumulation from row-crop agriculture. These sediments may interfere with the shrinking and swelling of the clay layer, which is vital to aquifer recharge, and reduce playa volume and length of time a playa will hold water, which significantly affects the plant and wildlife community supported by the playa. Modifications such as pits, ditches, berms, and roads also pose a threat to playas. These modifications concentrate water in a smaller area, thus reducing suitable habitat for water-dependent birds.

What scientists say

Groundwater Recharge

Playa Lakes Joint Venture held a Playa Recharge Summit with scientists and researchers who study various aspects of playas to determine what is known about groundwater recharge through playas. Click on a photo below to read what they had to say.

Amount of Recharge
A primary source of recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer
Water Quality
Higher quality water reaching the Ogallala Aquifer
Direct Benefits
Recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer stays in that area

Clean water for the future

Clean Water for Future Generations

Recharge Directly Benefits Playa Owner

A few facts about Kansas playas
22,045
Playas in Kansas
49 %
In cropland
39 %
In grassland
3.7
Average size (acres)
Financial and Technical Assistance

Playa Conservation Programs

These are a few of the conservation programs for playas. Talk to a biologist to learn more about these and other options that may work for you.  

Wetland Reserve Easements

$
Good for wetland and adjacent acres
  • 30-year or permanent easement
  • Up to 75% of restoration cost
  • Payment based on Geographic Area Rate Cap
  • Administered by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Conservation Reserve Program

Good for fields that contain multiple playas
  • 10-15 year program
  • Entire field must be planted to a native grass/forb mix
  • Annual rental payment based on soil types
  • Enroll during set period
  • Administered by USDA Farm Service Agency

Continuous Conservation Reserve Program

$29.9
Good for a playa and adjacent acres
  • 10-15 year program
  • Annual rental payment based on soil types
  • Sign-up incentive
  • Practice incentive
  • Enroll any time
  • Administered by USDA Farm Service Agency

Habitat First State Program

Good for buffer or exclusion fence around small playa
  • Up to 75% of establishment costs
  • One-time payment
  • Not enrolled in a multi-year contract
  • Administered by Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism

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