Biden signs bill to study salt lakes in drought-stricken western US

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Scientists will receive $25 million to study salt lake ecosystems in the drought-stricken American West, as President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed legislation allocating the funds to address existential threats without previous caused by lack of water.

The funding enables the United States Geological Survey to study the hydrology of ecosystems in and around Utah’s Great Salt Lake, California’s Mono Lake, Oregon’s Lake Albert and other saline lakes.

Amid a decades-long drought, less snowmelt has flowed through the rivers that feed the lakes, causing shorelines to recede and lake levels to drop.

Falling lake levels put at risk the people, animals and businesses that depend on maintaining the ecosystem.

Lakes often serve as critical habitats for migratory birds. Dust exposed by falling water levels can be thrown into the air and have dangerous health effects on surrounding communities. And a new depletion threatens the canals and infrastructure that a multimillion-dollar mining industry needs to extract salts from the lakes.

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In Utah, the Great Salt Lake has shrunk to its lowest point in recorded history, threatening economic production, snowpack, public health and wildlife. Ski resorts are worried about a future without lake-effect snow. State lawmakers and local water district officials have pledged to fund and encourage conservation efforts, but development, population growth and sustainable agricultural demand continue to strain water supplies. necessary for the maintenance of the lake.

In eastern California, state officials have dramatically reduced the amount Los Angeles can divert from streams and tributaries that feed Mono Lake in the eastern Sierras. For years, falling lake levels have made the water saltier, jeopardizing the habitats of birds, fish and brine shrimp.

Legislation signed Tuesday establishes what it calls a “saline lake ecosystem assessment and monitoring program in the Great Basin states” to examine variables such as water use and demand and “factors of climatic stresses.

Marcelle Shoop, director of the Saline Lakes program for the Audubon Society, said in a statement that the funding would complement existing conservation efforts. “The Great Salt Lake and the network of saline lake ecosystems in the arid west are facing very serious challenges with ever lower water levels, endangering local communities and millions of birds. migrants,” she said.

Although the legislation’s sponsors — senators and congressmen from across the West — have praised the effort and said they hope the studies will inform solutions, the program does not impose any conservation measures or institute new water management guidelines.

“These ecosystems need to be protected, but we can’t do that without enough data,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

The bill adds to the $40 million Utah lawmakers allocated to the Great Salt Lake for watershed improvement programs this year and complements $10 million in funding from the Army Corps of Engineers. for saline lakes passed as part of a Defense Spending Bill.

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