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Senate passes bill to study declining saline lake ecosystems

Josh Morgan / Flickr Creative Commons

News brief: 

A bill to address shrinking saline lakes across the West passed the U.S. Senate last week. It’s part of an ongoing effort to study what's stressing these important ecosystems in the Great Basin, especially the Great Salt Lake.

The bipartisan bill allocates $25 million over five years and names several lakes – mostly in Nevada, Utah and Oregon – as priorities for study. It passed unanimously in the Senate and now moves to the House of Representatives, where a similar piece of legislation passed last summer.

Republican Rep. Blake Moore represents much of Northern Utah. He said in a summit in October that this funding is key to getting more water into the Great Salt Lake, which reached record lows this year.

“This is huge. It's important. It has big impacts,” Moore said. “I’m committed in our team to be able to lean in where it's appropriate at the federal level.”

The bill allocates funding to the U.S. Geological Survey and directs it to monitor the hydrology of the lakes. Many of them are shriveling due to historic drought caused by climate change combined with other pressures like rapid population growth.

Saline lakes are landlocked bodies of water with high amounts of salt. They provide critical habitat for migratory birds and support mining and other industries. As dried-up lake beds become more exposed, the potential for toxic dust storms in the region increases. Utah officials in particular are looking into ways to preserve the Great Salt Lake and the rivers that feed it.

“Every single industry – from the bird migration to the ski industry to the agriculture industry to our front yards – we have to be willing to all take a look at it and come together,” Moore said.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney introduced and co-sponsored the bill, called the “Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act.” Five Democratic senators – Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California – also co-sponsored it.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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