What Is a


A Temporary Wetland

Playas — also called mud holes, buffalo wallows, and lagoons — are round, shallow depressions found at the lowest point of a watershed. Their basins, which are lined with clay soil, collect and hold water from rainfall and runoff, creating temporary wetlands.

A healthy playa has an intact clay basin — without excavated pits or ditches — that is not buried by sediment from nearby fields. Water from the surrounding watershed freely enters the basin through a native vegetative buffer without being diverted from the playa by roads, terraces or other impediments.

New Mexico Playas

Benefits of Playas

For People, Not Just Wildlife

Playas provide important wildlife habitat, but they also provide many benefits for people such as cleaner water going back into the Ogallala aquifer that can support families and towns, recreational activities, and flood control.

Groundwater Recharge Groundwater Recharge

Groundwater Recharge

Playas are a primary source of groundwater recharge, with an average rate across the region of about three inches per year.

Cleaner Water Cleaner Water

Cleaner Water

Playas are water filtration systems—keeping fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides out of the groundwater.

Recreation Recreation


Playas attract wildlife, providing local waterfowl and upland game bird hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Flood Control Flood Control

Flood Control

Playas collect runoff during high rains, reducing property damage from flooding and reducing erosion.

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Playa Recharge & Wetness

Decision Support Tools

Use the Playa Recharge and Wetness Estimators to explore the playa landscape, calculate an estimate of how much water recharges through individual playas, and learn about past patterns of wetness for playas in different seasons. To learn how to use these tools, watch the Recharge Estimator tutorial and Wetness Estimator tutorial videos.

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