Among the extensive government funding package Congress approved this week for fiscal year 2022, is an appropriation of no less than $1.25 million dollars for the U.S. Geological Survey to establish a regional Integrated Water Availability Assessment study program in the Great Basin of the American West. The program’s purpose is to assess and monitor the hydrology of saline lakes in the Great Basin and the migratory birds and other wildlife dependent on those habitats.
This is welcome funding that will kickstart efforts needed to benefit birds and salt lake habitats. Particularly with the ongoing drought, ecosystems and species across the West are stressed and migratory birds are even more dependent on the remaining saline lake and wetland habitat for breeding, resting, and feeding.
Audubon is also advocating for Congress to fully authorize the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act and dedicate longer-term funding. That proposed bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Romney (R-UT) and a companion bill is sponsored by Representatives Moore (R-UT) and Huffman (D-CA) in the House, with a host of co-sponsors on each.
“This science-based assessment and monitoring program will build upon Audubon’s findings that saline lakes in the West are interconnected bird habitats. They rely on each other,” said Marcelle Shoop, Audubon’s Saline Lakes Program Director. “It’s exciting to see this initial funding, and we’re eager to see additional funding that will allow the U.S. Geological Survey to implement a coordinated program that benefits the water and bird needs of saline lakes in the Great Basin.”
These saline lakes, such as Lake Abert in Oregon, Great Salt Lake in Utah and others, as well as their water sources, benefit millions of people and their businesses, livelihoods, and quality of life. This federal funding complements state-led efforts, such as Utah’s efforts to support Great Salt Lake with significant funding and attention to water and habitat health in the just finished legislative session. These efforts are urgent as there is no other network of saline habitats in the West that can meet the needs of millions of shorebirds and waterbirds.
Joey Kahn, Western Water Communications Manager