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Circular 1333

Prepared in cooperation with Playa Lakes Joint Venture

Recharge Rates and Chemistry Beneath Playas of the High Plains Aquifer—A Literature Review and Synthesis

By Jason J. Gurdak and Cassia D. Roe

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Playas are ephemeral, closed-basin wetlands that are important zones of recharge to the High Plains (or Ogallala) aquifer and critical habitat for birds and other wildlife in the otherwise semiarid, shortgrass prairie and agricultural landscape. The ephemeral nature of playas, low regional recharge rates, and a strong reliance on ground water from the High Plains aquifer has prompted many questions regarding the contribution of recharge from playas to the regional aquifer.

To address these questions and concerns, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, present a review and synthesis of the more than 175 publications about recharge rates and chemistry beneath playas and interplaya settings. Although a number of questions remain regarding the controls on recharge rates and chemistry beneath playas, the results from most published studies indicate that recharge rates beneath playas are substantially (1 to 2 orders of magnitude) higher than recharge rates beneath interplaya settings. The synthesis presented here supports the conceptual model that playas are important zones of recharge to the High Plains aquifer and are not strictly evaporative pans. The major findings of this synthesis yield science-based implications for the protection and management of playas and ground-water resources of the High Plains aquifer and directions for future research.

Revised April 8, 2010

First posted June 11, 2009

For additional information contact:

Director, Colorado Water Science Center
United States Geological Survey
Box 25046, Mail Stop 415
Denver, CO 80225

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Gurdak, J.J., and Roe, C.D., 2009, Recharge rates and chemistry beneath playas of the High Plains aquifer—A literature review and synthesis: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1333, 39 p.




Summary of Major Findings and Implications



Recharge Rates and Chemistry Beneath Playas

Conclusion Regarding Conceptual Model of Recharge Beneath Playas

Needs for Future Research


References Cited

Appendix 1. Glossary

Appendix 2. Infiltration estimates beneath playas of the southern High Plains

Appendix 3. Recharge estimates for the southern High Plains

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