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The West Coast’s saline lakes are withering into dust

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This article was originally high country news.

Last summer, NOAA scientists observed dust blowing 85 miles It originates from Lake Abbert and Lake Summer, two dried-up saline lakes in southern Oregon. This has happened before. Saline lake beds are some of the most important dust sources in the West. California’s Owens Lake is the largest U.S. source of PM10, a small pollutant found in dust and smoke, and in Salt Lake City, volcanic plumes erupt from 800 square miles of the Great Salt Lake’s bare riverbed. , causing toxin-filled sandstorms.

Salt lakes are rapidly losing water due to climate change and agricultural and urban use, making them some of the most threatened ecosystems in the West. New legislation now provides some support. On December 27, President Joe Biden announced a bipartisan Salt lake ecosystems under the Great Basin States Program Act, has allocated $25 million in funding for research and monitoring in saline lakes throughout the Great Basin. This funding is an important step, but it cannot provide what the lake really needs: more water.

The inland west is full of salt lakes, formed by the accumulation of meltwater in the valley floors of the Basin and Ranges region. Since there is no outflow in the valley, the water remains until it evaporates, leaving behind suspended particles. These accumulate over time and increase the salinity of the lake.

Ryan Houston, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, which works to conserve Oregon’s high deserts, including Summer Lake and Lake Abbert, said: .

However, this balance of runoff, salinity, and evaporation makes salt lakes highly susceptible to climate change. Less snow cover and more evaporation due to warmer temperatures means lakes are becoming less watery and more salinity. This stresses shrimp and flies that have adapted to specific salinity over time, exposing dry lakebeds and creating dangerous dust storms.

Decades of conversion to agriculture and urban use have also robbed the lake of water. For example, California’s Owens Lake has almost completely dried up for nearly his century since the water was diverted to Los Angeles.Ah Report released this week Scientists and conservation groups in Utah have warned that the Great Salt Lake is on the verge of disappearing within five years due to a combination of water diversion and climate change.

Many see poor air quality as the main reason for saving the lake. But the dust is a sign that entire ecosystems are dying, and the salt lake is a major stop on the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route that stretches from Alaska to Chilean Patagonia. “Our concern about dust indicates that Lake Abbert has already passed the point of losing its most important ecological value as part of the Pacific flyway. ‘ said Houston. Home to over 80 species of birds Or travel through Abbert Lake, 338 species depend on the Great Salt Lake.

The new law creates research and monitoring programs aimed at conserving salt lakes, including Abbert Lake, Summer Lake, Great Salt Lake, Owens and Mono Lakes in California, and Ruby and Walker Lakes in Nevada. The biologist, who began working on Mono Lake in the 1970s, said David Herbst said only a “small percentage of scientists” were studying the lake, prompting increased scrutiny by federal and state agencies. there is an increasing need to

“I am happy to see something that will help restore that unique ecosystem.”

Mono Lake Commission Executive Director Jeffrey McKilkin said: HCNMore The law is important because it “funds scientific research that will inform how to better manage valuable habitats and sustain many benefits in an era of climate change,” it said in an email. Clayton Dumont, chief of the Klamath tribe whose traditional territory borders Lake Abbert, said:, “I am happy to see something that will help restore that unique ecosystem.”

This is not the first federal program dedicated to lakes. In 2002, the Desert Terminal Lakes Program provided him with over $200 million to help protect Nevada’s salt lakes through scientific research and the purchase of water rights.of $858 Billion Defense Spending Act A bill passed just two weeks ago included $10 million for saltwater lake-related projects to be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.At the state level, Utah’s 2019 Concurrent Resolution to Address Falling Water Levels in the Great Salt Lake Created a $40 million trust to protect the lake.

But some advocates say monitoring and investigations alone are not enough. “This is great! But it’s not feeding the Great Salt Lake,” the organization Save Our Great Salt Lake posted on its Instagram account after the bill passed the Senate.

The problem of refilling the lake is more tricky. Water rights are controlled by the states, making it difficult for the federal government to intervene. There is an enormous amount of support and information available to advocates,” Houston said.

Still, most people are optimistic about the lake as interest grows. Houston said, “Unfortunately, it’s an exciting time because we have a crisis. “But it’s an exciting time in that a lot of people are talking about it.”

Note: This story has been updated to correct references to Bryn Fry. The researchers intended to refer to alkaline flies.

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