State of New Mexico > Environment Department > Surface Water Quality Bureau

Surface Water Quality Bureau
Watershed Protection Section
Wetlands Program

Watershed-Based Planning

Wetland Action Plans

Wetlands Action Plan
for Playa Lakes

Visit our other Wetlands Action Plans listings!

A Wetlands Action Plan
for Curry County

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Click to enlarge: a playa lake in Curry County. Phograph by Tish McDaniel, 2013.

Playas are a wetland type found across the shortgrass prairie region of Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Playas are defined as, “shallow depressional recharge wetlands similar to prairie potholes, characterized by annual or multiyear cycles of drydown and filling”. According to most estimates, there are between 25,000 and 40,000 playas scattered across the Southern Great Plains. The greatest density of playas is found in the short grass prairies of the Llano Estacado, a portion of which exists in Eastern New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included 506 playas in its National Wetlands Inventory for Curry County, New Mexico. The average size of these wetlands in Curry County is approximately 16.7 acres.

Maryann McGraw
Wetlands Program Coordinator
(505) 827-0581


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Playa lakes serve multiple functions on the Llano Estacado. Playas store water in an area otherwise devoid of surface water. Because of the lack of surface water, the Llano Estacado is completely dependent on groundwater supplies from the vast Ogallala Aquifer. Water from the Ogallala Aquifer supports agricultural, domestic, municipal, livestock, commercial and industrial water needs. Most of the water used in the Southern High Plains, nearly 95 percent, is used for irrigation. Since the development of irrigation, withdrawals have greatly exceeded recharge of the Ogallala, causing large water-level declines.

Playas are the chief source of recharge for the Ogallala Aquifer. Playas are the natural flood control system in the Southern High Plains. Playas act as both a source and sink for nutrients, and playas trap sediment and pollution and can effectively reduce flow velocity. However, chronic and heavy sediment loads can alter the ecological functions of playas and their floral and faunal communities.

Playa restoration projects in Curry County have the potential to build diverse partnerships that are committed to the goal of restoring and protecting playas. Playas are vital to communities, ranchers, farmers and an array of wildlife. Playas are also critical to the recharge of the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s only water source. The protection of these wetlands is therefore of the utmost importance.

The Curry County Playa Lakes Wetlands Action Plan was prepared for and funded by the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau Wetlands Program to satisfy U.S. EPA CWA Section 104(b)(3) Wetlands Grant (Assistance Agreement No. CD-966857-01-0-D (FY2008)), entitled “Curry County Playas Restoration and Protection.”

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USEPA–Accepted Watershed-Based Plans

Visit our USEPA-Accepted Watershed-Based Plans listings!

These Watershed-Based Plans (WBPs) were reviewed by USEPA and determined to meet the nine planning elements described in their Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories.

Watershed-Based Plans in Development

Visit our DRAFT Watershed-Based Plans listings!

These DRAFT WBPs are still works-in-progress, having not yet attained all nine planning elements listed in USEPA's Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories.

Watershed Restoration Action Strategies

Visit our archival Watershed Restoration Action Strategies listings!

Visit our WRASs that were developed prior to the nine elements of the WBP that have been incorporated into the Nonpoint Source Management Plan since 2009.  These archival plans generally lack the quantitative elements required of WBPs, but many of them still provide ueseful background information for future planning.

Wetland Action Plans

Visit our Wetland Action Plans listing!

Wetland Action Plans (WAPs) are designed to specifically address wetlands and riparian resources within the boundary of a specific watershed.  SWQB facilitates watershed groups throughout the State to develop WAPs as an additional component of their Watershed-Based Plan.

Resources for Developing Watershed-Based Plans

Visit our Watershed-Based Plans resource development webpage!

For more information on getting started, how-to guides and much more about completing a successful WBP, please visit us online today!


Contact us at:

The New Mexico Wetlands Program
ATTN.:  Maryann McGraw, Coordinator
New Mexico Environment Department
Surface Water Quality Bureau – Watershed Protection
1190 S. St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502

Tel.:  (505) 827-0581 FAX.:  (505) 827-0160

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