While playas provide critical wetland habitat for wildlife, they also provide important benefits for the people who live in this region. Playas, when healthy, provide a sustainable water source for communities and rain-fed operations, water filtration, flood control, livestock forage, and recreation.
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. In this dry landscape, playas are the main source of water for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds as well as resident prairie birds.
Playas are a primary source of groundwater recharge, contributing up to 95 percent of water flowing to the aquifer. Recharge rates in playas are 10 to 1,000 times higher than under other areas. The average rate across the region is about three inches per year — that’s three inches of water the size of the playa moving toward the aquifer each year. Since this is a continuous process, the water recharging through playas today will be available for use by the next generation. Read what playa scientists say about recharge >>
Water reaching the aquifer through playas is of higher quality than that going through other pathways. Healthy playas are water filtration systems, reducing contaminants reaching the groundwater. This happens in two ways: first, as rainfall and runoff flow through the vegetation surrounding the playa, sediments which can carry contaminants are trapped and stopped from entering the playa; then, as the water moves through the clay floor of the playa, the soils beneath the playa remove nitrates and other dissolved contaminants.
Flood Water Storage
Since playas are found in the lowest points on the landscape, they can provide flood water storage and prevent property damage. Healthy playas with intact basins are the primary sites where water collects during rainstorms, reducing damage to crops, roads, and property as well as reducing erosion.
Grazing has always been an important component of the prairie landscape, and it can be used to manage the vegetation in playa buffers and basins. This can provide additional forage for livestock, especially during drought when the only moisture supporting plant life is often found within a playa, as well as better wildlife habitat.
Recreation and Education
Wet playas attract thousands of ducks, geese and a variety of shorebirds during migrations, providing local hunting and birdwatching opportunities. Also, playas are a living laboratory where students can learn about wetlands, geology and the history of the region.