When I began my journey to talk with folks in the Great Plains about playas, I had a goal to visit each state in the region twice. Upon learning of the Kansas Governor’s Water Conference, I decided it would be a great event to kick off my tour de playas! The Governor’s Water Conference takes place annually in Manhattan, KS, bringing landowners, state agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations together to discuss pressing issues surrounding water in the state. Well, I learned that there is one big pressing issue surrounding water in Kansas – there’s not enough of it! Almost every talk I listened to discussed how to deal with the impending water shortage to protect crop production, livestock, and wildlife in the Kansas.
Because this was the first non-academic conference that I’ve attended since starting my Ph.D. work in playas, it was certainly a learning experience. I had to transition out of my research mindset and think about water issues facing real people every day. I have a strong theoretical knowledge of playas, but I lacked familiarity with conservation efforts on the ground and challenges associated with converting playas back to a semi-natural state. I found out different government incentive programs
In addition to gaining some practical knowledge of Kansas playas, I also was able to meet some of the Kansas playa players. Yes, playa players. I met Jessica Mounts, director of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, and organization who hosts workshops and field days in Western Kansas to raise awareness of playa conservation. I also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. David Haukos, a member of my dissertation committee and biologist at Kansas State University who has been studying playas for 30+ years. He’s a BIG playa player. Through Jessica and Dave, I found out about a playa field day taking place in Colby, Kansas in January 2018. Look for more information coming soon on this event!
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the comradery among the agricultural and conservation communities in Kansas coming together to address water shortage and the declining Ogallala Aquifer. While I didn’t win the student poster contest, I was glad to attend the meeting and learn more about Kansas water initiatives and some of the work taking place with playas in the state. I look forward to returning to Kansas in January to tour playas and talk with landowners about benefits and challenges of having playa wetlands on their properties. Special thanks to Dr. Bill Johnson at University of Kansas for recommending I attend this conference!