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Playa Basins highlighted on Jan. 16 TPWD TV series, January 20, 2021

Want to learn more about playa lakes and how they impact groundwater and wildlife habitat on the Southern High Plains?

Be sure to watch the “Playas for the Plains” segment featured on the Jan. 10 episode of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s TV series on PBS. CLICK HERE to view the program.

It includes:

  • Former TPWD Region One Migratory Game Bird Specialist Don Kahl
  • Deaf Smith County farmer/rancher Chris Grotegut
  • HPWD Education and Outreach Coordinator Katherine Drury
  • HPWD Field Staff Supervisor Keith Whitworth
  • HPWD General Manager Jason Coleman
  • HPWD Information/Education Supervisor Carmon McCain
  • Playa Lakes Joint Venture Coordinator Mike Carter

Kahl shared information about the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative, which is a voluntary playa basin restoration program. The program is for playa basins which are surrounded by grasses and have been modified with either pits or trenches.

“Years ago, it was common practice to dig pits or trenches into the bottom of playa basins. Irrigation tailwater and/or rainfall collected in these pits. Lake pumps transported the water to the head of the field for reuse. Many of these pits and trenches are no longer needed and can be easily restored. Once the pit is backfilled, rainwater and runoff can again reach the entire playa basin, including the large cracks in the dry playa floor. Landowners participating in the program incur no costs associated with restoring a playa,” said Kahl in an earlier Cross Section interview.

Grotegut has been a long time advocate of use of native grasses to enhance the water holding capacity of soils.

“If we can enhance the water holding capacity of the land with native grasses, and still be able to crop on that land with no-till technology, that when a raindrop falls on the earth, maybe we can catch 90 percent of it in the field. And 10 percent of it goes to the lake. And hopefully, that lake is functioning properly to where we catch a very high percentage of that 10 percent,” he said.

Coleman and Drury discussed the role of playas in aquifer recharge.

“During dry times, playa basins are not that noticeable. But, that dry period is very important because it also serves a very vital function of a playa. Which is, when it dries up, then cracks form in that lake bottom. And then the next time we do have adequate rainfall and that water does reach that basin, those cracks that have developed since it was dry really help facilitate the infiltration of groundwater,” said Coleman.

Drury noted the importance of water conservation. “Water has always been there for us. However, we tend to forget about how vital this resource is — until we don’t have it anymore,” she said.

Beginning in January each year, HPWD personnel make water level measurements in the District’s network of more than 1,350 privately-owned observation wells.

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Whitworth and McCain demonstrated how field staff use the latest technology to collect data, which is used to determine the average annual change in water levels each year.

Carter discussed the importance of playa basins to wildlife.

“Playa Basins are known as biodiversity centers—and that’s everything from amphibians and toads to sandhill cranes, and waterfowl. Basically, in an arid landscape, these features provide water for all the wildlife. The playas go from Texas and all the way to Nebraska. That’s the Central Flyway-the migratory path. The playas host a couple of million waterfowl during migration,” said Carter.

Kahl concluded by saying that people are starting to buy in and beginning to become more excited about playa restoration and conservation.

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