Helping Towns Provide a Sustainable Water Future
Playas are a primary source of groundwater recharge and can be an important part of a sustainable approach to securing water for communities in eastern New Mexico. Throughout the region, aquifer levels are decreasing, and many communities that depend on the High Plains (Ogallala) Aquifer are experiencing declining availability of groundwater. Throughout the Great Plains, there are a number of small towns that are at risk for continuing groundwater loss, which means their future water supply may be limited. Many of these towns are searching for solutions to continue providing abundant and clean water for residents including drilling more and deeper wells — just to provide the same amount of water. We are helping those communities prepare for a sustainable water future by cooperatively working to restore playas as part of a municipal water plan.
What Your Town Can Do
Communities can proactively address a declining municipal water supply by assisting with irrigation water conservation, better surface water management, and playa restoration and protection. Once water use has been reduced, healthy playas can provide a sustainable source of future water.
Playa restoration includes filling pits, ditches, and diversions, installing native shortgrass vegetation buffers, and managing surface water runoff to flow into playas. Low-tech, low-cost solutions for increasing the amount of water flowing through playas — while limiting sediments and impurities — are available. By diverting stormwater into playas, towns can keep roads and property from flooding while increasing the amount of groundwater recharge.
It is also important to reduce or eliminate competing water use. Although playas are a primary source of recharge, withdrawals from irrigation greatly exceed recharge from playas. However, some towns have found that when pumping from nearby wells is reduced or turned off, water levels in the aquifer rebound. Around the region, people are talking about and experimenting with how to lessen the amount of water used for irrigation and may be interested in programs which offer technical and financial support to retire irrigation wells near towns and municipal wells.