What is a "Playa"?
The term "playa" is a Spanish language
word meaning beach. In this context,
the term is also commonly used in place
names such as Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
In the English language, the term
"playa" is most commonly used to
ephemeral lakes found in the southwestern United
States and northwestern Mexico. These
are formed in basins with
internal drainage and the term playa is roughly
synonymous with a dry lake bed or, in
some cases, an alkali flat.
Playas on the Great Plains
On the western Great Plains of the
United States, the term "playa" is used
to describe the tens of thousands of
small, shallow intermittent lakes that
form in topographic deprressions. Unlike
desert playas, these playas tend to be
much smaller in size (about 1-20 acres),
their form tends to much more circular,
and they are characterized by a unique
wetland ecology. Given that natural
playas sustain wetland vegetation, we
view the terms "playa" and "playa
wetland" as synonymous..
The term "playa lake" is also used to
describe playas - although some reserve
this term to reference permanent urban
playas. We like this distinction
because most urban playas are now
permananet lakes and they have lost
their function as a true wetland.
Nevertheless, the two terms are widely
taken to be synonymous - and that is not
likely to change.
So in the end we have three terms.
The small, shallow ephemeral lakes found
on the western Great Plains can be
described as playas, playa wetlands or
playa lakes - and there is no real
distiction between the three.
U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Agricultural Research Service,
Ogallala Aquifer Program
The development of the playa wetlands
geodatabase and web-mapping application
was made possible through the support of
the U.S.D.A., Agricultural Research
Service, Ogallala Aquifer Program (OAP).
The OAP is dedicated to sustaining rural
comunities through new water management