In western Kansas, Ducks Unlimited, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture and other conservation organizations are helping communities and local conservation districts ensure future water supplies from the Ogallala Aquifer through the Groundwater Recharge and Sustainability Project (GRASP).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture&squo;s Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing $1.4 million in GRASP. In addition, conservation partners are contributing $1.5 million to the project, which was conceived by local communities that need help to meet their conservation goals.

"Wetlands on the high plains are a source of groundwater recharge,&dquo; said Matt Smith, conservation delivery manager for Playa Lakes Joint Venture. "Western Kansas water issues make these important.&dquo;

The partners will help landowners restore playas near municipal and domestic water wells, allowing water to trickle down and recharge those wells and the aquifer.

The GRASP project will also help landowners and agriculture producers improve their irrigation systems, reduce pumping, retire old wells and help transition toward dryland crop systems where applicable. The project is focused on Wichita and Greeley counties, which have seen a rapid decline in water availability.

Ducks Unlimited Biologist Abe Lollar says DU will help educate landowners on the importance of playas and share the cost of planting grass buffers around the wetlands, a necessary part of the restoration process. Lollar says native prairie shortgrass seed can range from $150 to $200 per acre.

Rainwater from surrounding fields runs into the playa and carries sediment and contaminants with it. The planted grass buffer is a natural water filter that traps sediment and improves the quality of the water entering the aquifer. It will also provide habitat and a food source for birds and pollinators.

"A healthy, functioning playa is one with little sediment on the bottom, no pit, and surrounded by that native shortgrass buffer,&dquo; Lollar said. "A key factor in enhancing the playa&squo;s ability to recharge underground water is getting that native grass to take hold and grow.&dquo;

"Water is a finite resource, and without planning and action we will no longer be able to meet our state&squo;s current water needs, let alone state growth,&dquo; said Katie Patterson-Ingels, communications director for the Kansas Water Office. "Water and our Kansas economy are directly linked.&dquo;

A workshop on playa lakes will be held Jan. 12 and 13 at the Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland. The event is free for landowners and tenants interested in learning more about the benefits of playas.

This story is an excerpt from one written by AJ Dome for the Kansas Reflector.