Playa lakes in Scott County
Playa lakes in Scott County (photo courtesy of Bill Johnson).


Small, shallow, and intermittent, playas are wetlands with no reliable sources of water or drainage systems. That is, no streams run into or out of playas. Their moisture comes solely from rain, snow, or other runoff from the surrounding land. Water that ends up in a playa eventually evaporates or seeps into the ground.

The High Plains portion of the southern Great Plains, which includes much of western Kansas, has more playas than anywhere else in the world. Kansas alone has more than 22,000.

Because the High Plains region doesn’t get much precipitation, the playas are often dry. When they do fill with water, playas become thriving wetlands home to a variety of plants and wildlife not normally found in the region. Migratory birds will use water-filled playas as stopovers and breeding grounds, and some seeds, invertebrates, and even amphibians appear only when a playa is wet. Having adapted to the unpredictable playa wet and dry periods, they remain dormant in the surrounding soil and sediment for years before emerging when a playa wetland springs to life.


Playas in Kansas and the High Plains (Public Information Circular 30)