PLAYAS PROVIDE MORE WATER FOR TEXANS|HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE|A RESILIENT FUTURE

Playas provide groundwater recharge and habitat for wildlife. If you have playas on your land, we can help you restore and manage them so they work for you—and provide water for the future.

Playa Benefits RESTORE YOUR PLAYA
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 rain 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

Playas are like the town square for wildlife on the plains—supporting 185 bird species, 450 plant species, 13 amphibian species, and 37 mammal species at some point during their life. In this prairie 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. Even when playas have been dry for years, within days of a big rain storm perennial plants show up and eggs hatch to become small invertebrates such as fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, clam shrimp, and snails. This bursting-forth of plant and animal life provides a ready feast for local and migrating birds.

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 Texas playas
23,106
playas in Texas
34 %
acres in cropland
66 %
acres in grassland
17
Average size (acres)
Information and Resources

Latest News

Learn About Playas at Upcoming Workshop

Landowners, Master Naturalists, educators, and community members are invited to attend a Playa Field Day on Tuesday, May 21, from 9:30am to 1:00pm in Abernathy, Texas. The field day will …