Biden signs bill to study drought-hit western U.S. salt lakes

Salt Lake City – Scientists will get $25 million to study salt lake ecosystems in the drought-stricken U.S. West, as President Joe Biden signed legislation Tuesday to allocate funds amid unprecedented existential threats from water scarcity .

The funding enables the USGS to study the hydrology of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, California’s Mono Lake, Oregon’s Albert Lake and other salt lakes and their surrounding ecosystems.

During the decades-long drought, the rivers that flow into the lake have seen less snowmelt, causing shorelines to recede and lake levels to plummet.

Declining lake levels endanger the people, animals and businesses that depend on sustaining ecosystems.

These lakes are often important habitats for migratory birds. Dust exposed by falling water levels can be blown into the air, with dangerous health effects for surrounding communities. Further depletion threatens the canals and infrastructure needed by the multimillion-dollar mining industry to extract salt from the lake.

Great Salt Lake in Utah compression It fell to the lowest point on record, posing threats to economic output, snowpack, public health and wildlife. Ski resorts worry about a future without lake-effect snow.state legislators Local water district officials have pledged to fund and incentivize conservation efforts, but development, population growth and persistent agricultural demands continue to strain the water supplies needed to maintain the lake.

In eastern California, state officials have sharply reduced the amount of water Los Angeles can divert from the creeks and tributaries that feed Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra. Over the years, falling lake levels have made the water saltier, endangering the habitat of birds, fish and brine shrimp.

The legislation signed Tuesday establishes what is known as the “Saline Lake Ecosystem in the Great Basin National Assessment and Monitoring Program” to examine variables such as water use and demand as well as “climate stressors.”

The funding will complement existing conservation efforts, Marcelle Shoop, director of the Audubon Society’s Salt Lake Program, said in a statement. “The Great Salt Lake and the Salt Lake ecosystem network in the arid west face very serious challenges, with water levels getting lower and lower, putting local communities and millions of migratory birds at risk,” she said.

While the legislation’s sponsors — senators and congressmen from across the West — praised the effort and said they hope the studies will inform solutions, the plan does not enforce any protections or create New Water Management Guidelines.

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

The bill adds to the $40 million that Utah lawmakers allocated to the Great Salt Lake this year for a watershed improvement program and complements the $10 million in funding for the Salt Lake from the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the defense spending bill.

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