Playa Lakes Joint Venture

Climate Change Challenge

In the western Great Plains, playas are a vital source of food and habitat to waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds migrating through the Central Flyway and a primary recharge mechanism for the Ogallala aquifer. But a majority of these 80,000 playas are impacted by modifications such as pits that destroy the playas’ hydrological and ecological functionality. In a drying climate fewer playas will be wet, making playa restoration an urgently needed climate adaptation strategy.

The Conservation Response

In 2015, Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) began filling pits in playas on the Comanche, Kiowa and Rita Blanca National U.S. Forest Service National Grasslands. This project marks the beginning of a long-term regional restoration effort for the PLJV partnership to fill pits and trenches in playas.

In the past, pits were often dug in playas to help irrigate surrounding land or collect water for livestock. These modifications interrupt a playa’s natural hydrology and reduce its ability to provide food and habitat to birds and other wildlife, and can also impact the quality of groundwater that recharges through playas. These pits and ditches can easily be removed; in most cases, the spoil pile from the original excavation is present and simply needs to be used to refill the pit or trench.

With a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund, PLJV is restoring the hydrological function of a network of playas, improving the connectivity between playas across a five million acre landscape and creating a more resilient landscape as the climate becomes warmer and drier.

Geography

Colorado

PLJV Focuses Restoration Efforts on Filling Pits in Grassland Playas

 

A grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund is helping to restore playas on USDA Forest Service National Grasslands in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Partners are filling pits in over 20 playas on public and private land on or near the National Grasslands and expect to be finished by September 2016.

Playa lakes are biodiversity centers of the region, vital to Central Flyway waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds, and the primary recharge mechanism for the Ogallala aquifer, the water source for most of the region’s population including agricultural production. But modifications, such as pits, interrupt playas’ natural hydrology and reduce their ability to provide food and habitat to birds and other animals. Filling in the pitted area allows the water to spread out over the entire playa basin, rather than pooling in the excavated area, when significant precipitation events occur. This type of playa restoration is urgently needed, especially as we are faced with projections for a drying climate, where fewer playas are likely to be wet.

Climate projections foretell a complex future, and it is difficult to predict how climatic changes will interact and be compounded. The 80,000 playas scattered across the western Great Plains provide adaptability and resilience in this changing landscape, but the large number of modified, non-functioning playas must be addressed as we prepare for the future.

This project will restore the hydrological function of a network of playas, improve the connectivity between playas across a five million acre landscape and result in a more resilient landscape in a warmer, drier climate. When completed, the restored playas will support a one percent increase in migratory bird populations and the approach will serve as a model for partners in the region.

Listen and learn more:

- What Are Playas? 

- Playas Create Biodiversity

- What’s the Problem With Pits?

- Filling Pits in Playas on National Grasslands 

- Playas Recharge the Aquifer 

Huron River Watershed Council
Sky Island Alliance