AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The education-focused nonprofit Ogallala Commons announced that registration has opened for an upcoming “Stewarding Our Aquifer Field Day” set for Feb. 8, aimed at focusing on how playa lakes could play a critical role in the future of water in the High Plains, particularly for small towns and municipalities.

Organizers noted that the event will be hosted from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the PRPC Board Room at 415 SW Eighth Ave.

As previously reported on MyHighPlains.com, the Texas Panhandle is home to thousands of playa lakes, which are shallow dips in the prairies and plains where rainwater is collected. In years of plentiful rainfall, playa lakes can tend to gather about three or four feet of water that evaporates into the air or filters through the soil and contributes to aquifer recharge. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas High Plains region hosts the highest density of playas in North America and act as critical “refueling points” for an extensive number of migratory birds.

Despite mounting evidence that playa lakes function as a critical recharge source for the fast-declining Ogallala Aquifer system, the TPWD said they are often threatened and destroyed as an effect of a range of farming and grazing practices. Road construction, irrigation, sedimentation, and overgrazing have negatively impacted playa lakes in the region, which is still grappling with continued drought conditions.

The event announcement noted that city managers, public works directors, county officials, regional water and flood planners, groundwater conservation districts, educators and students, farmers and ranchers, agency personnel, and others interested can register for the event for $15 per person through this link or by calling or emailing the Ogallala Commons Deputy Director, Dr. Darryl Birkenfeld, at darryl@ogallalacommons.org or 806-945-2255.

“Along with information about playa ecosystems and playa restoration options,” said the event announcement, “the program will focus on how healthy, functioning playas can recharge the aquifer and help to sustain municipal water supplies for rural communities across the High Plains. The event will also include a field tour to an urban playa in Amarillo, and a moderated discussion after lunch.”

The event, according to organizers, has been cosponsored by the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, the City of Amarillo, the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District, the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, and the Dixon Water Foundation.

The event’s schedule, according to the announcement, includes:

  • 9:30 a.m. – Welcome address by Birkenfeld
  • 9:45 a.m. – Overview on regional collaboration and water challenges with Courtney McNeely, director of Regional Services with the South Plains Association of Governments in Lubbock;
  • 10 a.m. – Overview of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle with Steve Walthour, general manager of the North Plains GCD;
  • 10:25 a.m. – Overview of playa ecosystems and the Playa Conservation Initiative with Heather Johnson, Migratory Game Bird Specialist: Region I, of the TPWD;
  • Examples of municipalities in New Mexico and Kansas employing playa restoration as a water management strategy with Make Carter, executive director of Playa Lakes Joint Venture;
  • 11:40 a.m. – Catered lunch and open discussion moderated by Jim Steiert, an award-winning playa author, and agriculture journalist;
  • 1 p.m. – Field tour to a functioning urban playa southwest of Randall High School

Playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle were also recently the subject of a trailblazing study by a former West Texas A&M University graduate student, Hannah Tripp, who studied satellite images mapping tens of thousands of playa lakes across the Great Plains. Tripp said that the information could be used to identify which playas hold the most water and would be especially important to conserve, either as wildlife habitats or as vectors of aquifer recharge.

This event also comes as the Texas State Legislature continues to discuss policy and plans for the future of water in the state. The House Natural Resources Committee issued its interim report to the 88th Legislature in January, and the Senate Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Committee issued its interim report in December. The Texas Water Foundation also announced the recent establishment of the Texas House Water Caucus.