(UPDATE July 29, 2022)—Today, the House of Representatives passed the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act as part of the larger Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act (H.R. 5118). The bill, if passed in the Senate and signed by President Biden, will bring much-needed solutions to help restore our ecosystems, protect birds and wildlife, and build community resilience throughout the West. Funding for Saline Lakes and drought in the West are a critical start for protecting these irreplaceable landscapes.
WASHINGTON (September 23, 2021)—Today, Congressman Blake Moore (R-UT) and Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act to establish a scientific monitoring and assessment program to better manage conservation efforts for saline lake ecosystems and migratory birds in the West.
Saline lakes within the Great Basin—which includes areas of Utah, California, Nevada, and Oregon—provide a critical network of habitats for millions of migrating shorebirds, waterbirds, and waterfowl. Saline lakes generally have higher levels of salts and dissolved minerals than freshwater lakes, allowing them to provide essential habitats, create and drive recreational opportunities, provide public health benefits, and more. However, declining water levels due to demand, drought, and environmental changes have dried out these important lakes within the Great Basin, threatening habitats, public health, and recreation.
The Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act would provide the U.S. Geological Survey—in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tribal, state, academic, and nonprofit organizations—resources to conduct scientific monitoring and assessments to establish effective management and conservation efforts to preserve essential Saline Lake habitats within the Great Basin network.
“Utah’s Great Salt Lake is a critically important ecosystem, habitat, and driver of tourism and business,” said Congressman Blake Moore. “But today, its water levels are at their lowest in recorded history, leading to a loss of habitat, decreased water flows, and air quality issues. Unfortunately, saline lakes in Great Basin states are facing these same challenges. That is why I am proud to introduce the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act, which will create a multi-year, cooperative program at the U.S. Geological Survey to study and identify solutions to this pressing issue.”
"Public waters like the Great Basin saline lakes are vital for the futures of wildlife and the communities whose livelihoods depend on them. How we manage them, especially in the face climate change and severe drought, should be led by science,” said Congressman Jared Huffman. “This legislation will get us the data needed to understand how water supplies and habitats are changing, assess future water needs, and develop management solutions to help these ecosystems thrive for generations.”
“Great Salt Lake and the network of saline lake ecosystems in the arid West are facing alarming and historic low water levels, placing millions of migratory birds and local communities and economies at risk,” said Marcelle Shoop, Saline Lakes Program Director for the National Audubon Society. “This landmark science-based legislation—introduced by Representatives Moore and Huffman—will build on the current knowledge to inform our understanding of changing water supplies and habitats, and provide the foundation for all to work collaboratively to develop solutions that protect bird habitat and people.”
“Weber Basin Water Conservancy District thanks and supports Congressman Moore in his efforts to protect the inland saline lakes of the western United States,” said Tage Flint, General Manager and CEO of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. “The Great Salt Lake in Utah is a national treasure and resides at the terminus of multiple essential river systems in northern Utah. Careful use and management of those water resources now and in the future will ensure that the Great Salt Lake does not incur further depletions. We support responsible and cooperative solutions to secure the lake’s future.”
The Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act builds on the important, broadly supported work being done in the Utah State Legislature to address this issue. In addition, the bill has received support from several organizations, including: the National Audubon Society, Compass Minerals, Trout Unlimited, Rio Tinto Kennecott, the Utah Waterfowl Association, the Utah Airboat Association, the Utah Wetlands Foundation, the Nature Conservancy in Utah, Friends of Great Salt Lake, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative, the Utah Audubon Council, and other Audubon chapters in Nevada and Oregon.
Representatives Moore and Huffman were joined in the introduction by Representatives Susie Lee (D-NV), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).
The bill text can be found here.
Joey Kahn, National Audubon Society