Preserving a Working Ranch Photo by Chas Isenhart

Preserving a Working Ranch

Greg Moore manages his 23,000-acre ranch in eastern New Mexico to support both cattle and wildlife. To ensure the playas and grasslands continue to be preserved, he worked with New Mexico Land Conservancy to put his ranch under a conservation easement. He has also restored playas by filling in pits and developed alternative water sources for his cattle.

“I just don’t think people understood what a playa does, what the nature of it is — and that’s be an infiltrator, that water going down,” says Greg. “The thing we didn’t understand was when you put a pit tank in there, you disturbed what that playa was supposed to do.”

There are many programs available to help landowners conserve and restore playas. Learn about playa conservation programs >>

For more information about conservation easements, visit

Restoring Playas for a Better Future Photo by Chas Isenhart

Restoring Playas for a Better Future

Pleasure Lake Farms is a family operation in eastern New Mexico. With drought and declining aquifer levels, Bo and Dru Stevens are adapting their farming practices for a sustainable future, including restoring a playa to support groundwater recharge and provide wildlife habitat.

“The only way I know of that our aquifer can recharge are through the playas,” says Bo. “I’ve learned and come to realize that you don’t fight against a playa and try to turn it into something that it’s not. A playa is not a place to grow crops. If we can get even a portion of the playas that we have around here to be back in their natural state, where they can recharge, we’re going to have a whole lot better future for agriculture and farmers as a whole.”

There are many programs available to help landowners conserve and restore playas. Learn about playa conservation programs >>

Conservation Program Pays for Playa Restoration Photo by 12th Gate Studios

Conservation Program Pays for Playa Restoration

Did you know that restoring playas on your land can help recharge the aquifer? And now, there is a conservation program that provides landowners with financial and technical assistance to restore the hydrological function of their playas.

The Central Curry Soil and Water Conservation District has partnered with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Playa Lakes Joint Venture to offer this program to Curry County residents. The program is designed to restore playas and surrounding grass buffers through sediment removal, buffer planting, pit filling, channel remediation, and other modifications such as berms that allow water to flow into playas. The program covers 100% of the restoration costs (determined at time of the site visit) with the agreement that the playa will not be farmed for 20 years. Landowners receive a one-time reimbursement payment for the restoration costs.

To learn more about this playa conservation program, discuss eligibility or arrange a site visit, contact Christopher Rustay from Playa Lakes Joint Venture, a pre-approved CCSWCD agent, at or 575-208-4648.


For more information, read Man on hunt for a few damaged playas in The Eastern New Mexico News.

Common Misconceptions About Pits in Playas

Common Misconceptions About Pits in Playas

MISCONCEPTION #1: Filling in pits in playas would be very costly for the landowner.

Filling a pit is typically one of the more inexpensive playa restoration projects a landowner can pursue. Spoil piles from the original pit excavation are often still near the playa and should be reused as fill. There are conservation programs that can help defray the cost. For more information about program or tips on filling a playa, contact us.

MISCONCEPTION #2: There is no positive impact of filling in a pit, because the pit helps the playa hold water.

A pit may trap and hold water for a longer period of time but at the cost of keeping the rest of the playa functional. If the entire playa basin does not receive water, it cannot go through a critical wet and dry cycle, which is necessary to provide habitat for wildlife and to recharge the aquifer. Once the pits are filled, rainwater and runoff can reach the large cracks in a dry playa — which is essential for recharge to occur — rather than collecting in the pit. The shallow water that spreads across the playa also allows plants to flourish, which in turn provides important food and habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

MISCONCEPTION #3: It is better for wildlife to leave the pit as it is.

The best playa for wildlife is a healthy, restored playa with its natural hydrology intact. Healthy, functioning playas attract thousands of birds — from waterfowl, cranes, and shorebirds to landbirds and pheasants. Capturing rainfall in a pit leaves little surface area for use by birds and prevents unique, nutritious plant and animal life from growing in the playa basin. Some ducks and geese may use the pit for resting but other species that like to wade in shallow water can’t use pits. Also, studies have shown that there is less food available for birds in pits compared to playas that flood naturally.

MISCONCEPTION #4: The pits were originally created to collect water for flood irrigation, and although they now serve a different purpose, it is not at all negative.

True, some landowners have found alternative uses for pits. And, if the pit is essential to your operation, then it should be used. However, some uses, like watering livestock, can also be accomplished by developing an upslope watering source with the added benefit of providing a constant flow and better quality of water, independent of rainfall. Water found in a pit can often be unhealthy compared to water from a well. By using strategies that don’t involve pits, you can have a naturally functioning playa that recharges the aquifer and provides food and habitat for wildlife. For more information about conservation options for your playa, contact us or your local USDA Service Center.

MISCONCEPTION #5: Pits need to be made deeper.

There is no evidence that pits recharge the aquifer, or at a faster rate, than a naturally functioning playa. A naturally functioning playa, with no pits, will send more and cleaner water toward the aquifer. When a pit is dug, the clay soil may be broken and/or removed. Without that clay lining, the cleaning function of the playa is circumvented. Experiments conducted by the Texas Water Development Board to test these deep pits demonstrated that recharge function ceased, on average, after two years. Although some pits hold water for far longer than a natural playa, that is only evidence the water is being held; it is not being cleaned, nor infiltrating and flowing toward the aquifer.

Clovis Looks to Playas to Help Supply Municipal Water Photo by Brian Slobe

Clovis Looks to Playas to Help Supply Municipal Water


Read the Transcript

The city of Clovis, New Mexico, is taking an innovative approach to ensuring its future water supply — playa conservation. And what this city of 38,000 is doing might become a model for other municipalities on the High Plains. The city government put a million dollars of economic development funds toward playa conservation. Most immediately they’re doing a stormwater runoff project to fill playa lakes. Longer range, Clovis city officials are talking with adjacent landowners and ag producers about rehabbing those playas, and obtaining water rights.

“The farmer is converting to dryland farming, enhancing their playa lake recharge and getting a long-term agreement to save that water for municipal and industrial use.”

Clovis mayor David Lansford, who told me cattle feedlots came in decades ago. But more recently the region’s seen huge dairy farms established. It’s lucrative for local producers to grow forage for those milk cows.

“We can only wait so long to start implementing conservation methods outside the city where the water is being mined aggressively. Eighty-five or ninety percent of the water in Curry County is used to put on crops, and the rate that is going is unsustainable by a long shot.”

Lansford says in the county, there are 10 to 15 ag producers who understand their water supply will be critical for Clovis and the adjacent Cannon Air Force Base.

“They don’t want to be the ones that ran the well dry. They are community minded people. They understand and care about the survival and sustainability of Curry County’s economy.”

The challenge is finding a way to compensate those producers for going dryland.

“They’re going to participate as long as it makes business sense. They aren’t going to go along with $100, let’s say, when they can make $500. That doesn’t make any sense.”

One Clovis neighbor is rancher Vincent de Maio.

“The idea that we retire some water closer to the city is certainly the first step they want to take. I see it as a much bigger project, and I see it much more extensive. I see the Clovis area as really being the model going forward, because what’s happening here is happening in west Texas, is happening in Kansas and Nebraska, all the way across the Ogallala.”

Mayor Landsford understands playas recharge the aquifer the city pulls its water from, and Clovis has playas in town. One project Clovis is pursuing diverts storm runoff into those lakes “as opposed to running them down the bar ditches and onto the highway.”

Then find methods, engineering, land- and vegetation-management methods that return playas to their natural functioning form.

“And then divert that water into those playa lakes and create not only a recharge funnel for the aquifer, but create a habitat for wildlife and various living species.”

Ken Rainwater’s a water-resources engineer at Texas Tech. He’s involved with the consulting firm doing the Clovis drainage master plan.

“As the stormwater runs through the city of Clovis, the flow paths are controlled by where the playa lakes are. Part of my job is to work with the information they’ve gathered to try to get an idea about how the playas behave during and between storms.”

Mike Carter is Playa Lakes Joint Venture coordinator. This project to capture storm runoff and send it into playas, Mike says that’s new and innovative thinking.

“If you triple the amount of water going into a playa by diverting runoff that’s doing damage to roads anyway and then you do it with sediment buffers so that you don’t do damage to the playa, you could be looking at a situation where you’re tripling the amount of recharge. That’s exactly the kind of solution that we’re looking for. That’s brilliant thinking.”

Playa Country, which ended in late 2016, was a weekly show that featured conservation and wildlife experts — as well as farmers, ranchers and land managers — talking about conservation practices that improve wildlife habitat and landowners’ bottom-line. This episode of Playa Country was made possible by a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society, with support provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.