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

A few facts about New Mexico playas
playas in New Mexico
4 %
of acres in cropland
96 %
of acres in grassland
average size (acres)
A Temporary Lake or Pond

What are playas?

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.

Blue-winged Teal

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.

Sediment plumes in Priebe playa

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 and listen to short podcasts that include interviews with some of them.

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

Financial and Technical Assistance

Playa Conservation Programs

There are several conservation programs available to help you restore and protect playas. A few state and federal programs are listed below for comparison. Learn more about these and other programs to see which options may work for you.

NMDGF Playa Conservation Program

  • 20-year agreement
  • 100% of restoration costs
  • One-time reimbursement payment
  • Administered by Playa Lakes Joint Venture and Central Curry Soil and Water Conservation District

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

  • Contracts up to 10 years
  • Rates established yearly; can be up to 75% of restoration costs
  • Reimbursement payment
  • Enroll during set period
  • Administered by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wetland Reserve Easements

  • 30-year or permanent easement
  • Rates established yearly
  • Payment based on Geographic Area Rate Cap
  • Administered by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Continuous Conservation Reserve Program

  • 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
Information and Resources

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