Hydrology of urban playa lakes in Lubbock, Texas
West, Eric Lane
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The Southern High Plains region of Texas and New Mexico contains more than 20,000 small, circular depressions called playa lakes or playas. These playas create a unique physiographic phenomenon where many watersheds in the region are small closed basins in which no outlet from the watershed is present (Gustavson et al., 1994). The presence of playa lakes implies that runoff from the contributing watershed is focused into the playa lake, including chemical constituents associated with the runoff. Also, the fate of the runoff has only two possibilities, evaporation or infiltration. The chemical constituents are therefore treated naturally in playa waters, bound to playa sediments, or transported to the groundwater flow system. At one time, researchers believed that evaporation, rather than infiltration, controlled the fate of water entering playas in the High Plains. This includes work done by C V. Theis (1937) and the Texas Water Development Board (1965). However, more recent investigations are revealing that not only is infiltration significant in playa lakes, it is the primary source of recharge to the groundwater (Wood and Osterkamp, 1984b; Wood and Sanford, 1994; Wood, Rainwater, and Thompson, 1997). In an urban environment, such as the city of Lubbock, the existence of playa lakes is essential to storm drainage as well as recreation (Hertel and Smith, 1994). Little information has been collected concerning the hydrology of these urban playas, some of which have altered bed sediments due to development. In addition, rising groundwater levels and runoff quality concerns are major considerations for city engineers and administrators as well as researchers. Detailed investigations of urban playas will be a valuable tool for determining the interaction of stormwater runoff and groundwater flow systems.