Exhibit touts lakes’ importance

Freedom New Mexico: Casey Peacock Tish McDaniel, with The Nature Conservancy, and Kathy Durand, chair of the Anthropology department at Eastern New Mexico university, studies one of the posters that will be on display at the “Playas: Gems of the Plains” exhibit.

By Casey Peacock: Freedom New Mexico

Many people do not understand the importance of the playa lakes, according to Tish McDaniel, Southern Shortgrass Prairie coordinator with The Nature Conservancy.

An integral part of the High Plains, playa lakes are the main source for recharging the Ogallala Aquifer, she said.

McDaniel has been working with landowners, including farmers and ranchers, to preserve the playas and to educate them on the importance of the playas in the area, she said.

“I’m very concerned about our aquifer and the depletion of it, as we all should be,” McDaniel said.

As part of the education, a traveling exhibit called “Playas: Gems of the Plains” will be on display through Dec. 9 in the Miles Anthropological Museum at Eastern New Mexico University.

The interactive exhibit offers information about the lakes and the role they play in the area.

“The main thing is these playas are critically imperiled and we are losing them at a fast rate,” McDaniel said.

During the year, playa lakes recharge at a rate of approximately 2 inches per year with good or above average rainfall. Many of the lakes are lost due to sedimentation, mainly from farming, McDaniel said.

“We have viewed playas as irritating mudholes for years, not knowing their importance,” McDaniel said.

Third-generation Roosevelt County resident and landowner Betty Williamson was active in helping to set up the exhibit.

“I’m really hoping the current generation will grow up knowing what they (playa lakes) are,” Williamson said.

Williamson remembers playas were considered a problem area in a field during her childhood. This was long before people became aware of how important the playa lakes are to the aquifer, Williamson said.

Though her family’s land does not have playa lakes on their land, Williamson has become a passionate promoter of their importance in an effort to ensure that future generations are able to continue living in Roosevelt County.

“I’m hoping this exhibit will be the first step in learning more,” Williamson said.

The exhibit is sponsored by ENMU, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, The Nature Conservancy and the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District.