"The playa lakes are wetlands often overlooked, but invaluable to water quality, to recharging the Ogallala Aquifer and as sanctuary for wintering birds," Senator Roberts said. "This bill works within legislation that is already proven to bring real conservation results in a sustainable way."

The Playa lakes stretch from west Texas up through the panhandle and parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Playas are the most common wetland in these areas and cover a total of 30,000 acres in the six states.

They are shallow, clay-lined wetlands that average less than 30 acres and are not filled with water on a year round basis. In many areas, the lakes have been used for grazing, irrigation and run-off. Some playas have also been filled in by sediment runoff from crop land.

Senator Roberts said the bill protects these wetlands by amending the Farmable Wetlands Program under the Conservation Reserve Program to allow the enrollment of 40 contiguous acres instead of 10 and allow payment on 10 of the acres instead of five. These changes ensure that the majority of lakes and their buffer areas will be eligible for enrollment, and it also guarantees that playas will be considered eligible wetlands by USDA.

"Research indicates that playas can be a significant source of recharge for parts of the Ogallala," Senator Roberts said. "Recharge rates under the playas can be many times greater than surrounding areas. This legislation makes a critical investment in our water supply."

The playas support 37 mammal species, 185 bird species, and 340 plant species, Senator Roberts noted. They provide temporary shelter for wintering birds including some 400,000 Sandhill Cranes along with 2.5 million ducks and 500,000 geese.

Senator Roberts is a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He has been a strong supporter of voluntary conservation programs.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com