Stewarding Natural Resources

Ogallala Commons organizes field days and educational events that help landowners, agency personnel, students, communities, and the interested public to revitalize and conserve our natural resources.  The purpose of Playa Field Days is general information about playa ecosystems as well as playa restoration options available through our collaborators (USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA Farm Services Administration, and the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative.  The aim of OC’s Stewarding Our Aquifer Field Days is to provide information about management practices that can reduce or stabilize groundwater depletion levels in the region, as well as assist in the transition from irrigated agriculture to rainfed agriculture—practices which include improving soil health, using cover crops, pasture-based agriculture, and greatly limiting or discontinuing irrigation.

Getting out on the ground with landowners and presenters enhances the learning process while sharpening the focus on actions and results.
Learning about the need for playa buffers at OC's Playa Tour on July 10, 2021
Playa filled with surface water from generous summer rains.
Students from Silverton High School (TX) learn about low energy precision application (LEPA) systems for conserving groundwater.
A large crowd at SOA Field Day benefitting from excellent presentors.
Attendees seeing the impact of a playa restoration project after a 1-inch rainfall.
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PLAYA FESTIVALS

The realities of High Plains water cycle aren’t always easy to see, so our Playa Festival makes it come alive for students with demonstrations and field trips that show playa basins, flora and fauna, local watershed carved by draws and creeks, and the Ogallala Aquifer in real-life situations. The ecological keystones of our region’s water cycle are an estimated 60,000 playa basins. We may not have rivers, but the Southern High Plains has more playas than anywhere in the world. Playas are often dry, which is normal and natural, but when filled with water after heavy rains, playas become supercharged oases of life! Though ignored and neglected, playas are among the most important and most endangered wetlands in North America. Playas also provide the main recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer, and are vital to local ecosystems and economies. Our festivals are designed to fit with the school day, and students learn about playa ecology and the water cycle through science, history, biology, art and creative writing.

PLAYA CLASSROOM

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In June of 2010, Ogallala Commons completed construction of the Playa Classroom. It is an education facility on a 20 acre playa wetland dedicated to educating the public about playas, giving visitors a unique opportunity to touch, see and experience a prairie wetland. The project was sponsored by USFW Partners for Wildlife, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, The Dixon Water Foundation, and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Guided tours and class field trips are available. For more information contact Darryl Birkenfeld, Ph.D., at (806) 945-2255.

Locate the Playa Classroom

PLAYA FIELD DAYS

Four times each year, Ogallala Commons conducts Playa Field Days for landowners, agency personnel, youth, and anyone interested.

These morning-to-lunch educational events are geared toward conservation of playa basins and their adjoining watershed, and include topics such as planned grazing management, identifying playa plants, understanding the role of playa critters like amphibians, waterfowl, shore birds, and macroinvertebrates, in addition to learning about conservation practices and cost-share programs that help to restore playa wetlands. We will post upcoming events and agendas on this page as they become available.

If you would like to be included on our email list in order to receive notifications of these types of events, Email Darryl Birkenfeld or give him a call at 806-945-2255.

OUR GOALS INCLUDE

  • Create grassroots change towards greater stewardship of the Ogallala Aquifer, by a majority of the population living in the aquifer footprint.
  • Inspire a collaborative network offering solutions that slow and reduce depletion of our aquifer.
  • Develop an accessible digital footprint with resources and contacts spanning multiple industries and interests.
  • The Ogallala Aquifer is an almost incomprehensible natural resource, due to its geographical size and overall economic, cultural, and historical scope. It’s one of Great Plains’ only dependable water sources, and the largest freshwater aquifer (by volume) in the world, spread across parts of 8 states. The aquifer stretches over 800 miles north to south, straddling the 100th meridian, the dividing line between the arid and non-arid halves of our nation.

The Ogallala Aquifer underlies roughly 174,000 square miles, directly serving Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. It’s thought to have originally contained around 3.25 billion acre-feet of water within its massive gravel, clay, and sandy beds. Its groundwater reserves are generally found anywhere from 50 to 300 feet beneath the soil surface, depending on location.  Landscapes north of Kansas and Colorado have saturated thickness of around 1,000 feet, while in many areas south of those states, the thickness of the Ogallala is only 100 feet or less.

In the past seventy years, ever-increasing usage has greatly diminished this finite water resource, especially in the southern High Plains section. With food demands rising across the world and exponential increases in domestic population, further depletion of this nonrenewable resource has become a major concern.  Coupled with frequent droughts, wells in many parts of the Ogallala are literally running dry.

Ogallala Commons is launching the Stewarding Our Aquifer Initiative as a response to the extensive problems associated with the diminishing water resources of the Great Plains. Stewarding our aquifer is critical to the vitality of the Great Plains.  Our response must engage, include, and motivate a majority of people living in the Ogallala Aquifer region if our Initiative is to have any measurable, lasting impact.

We seek to create a large online community across the High Plains, built around education and information. We’ll be working to connect, inspire, and empower people to actively steward the great gift of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Major Partners