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Congress Passes Audubon-backed Invoice to Assess and Monitor Saltwater Lake Ecosystems within the West


WASHINGTON—Last night, Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act passed the Senate after passing the House last week. This Audubon-backed legislation will establish a scientific monitoring and assessment program to help save the Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the West. Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Sen Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Romney (R-UT) led this bipartisan legislation. The bill now heads to the White House to be signed into law by President Biden.

“I am so appreciative of Governor Cox, Speaker Wilson, Joel Ferry, and the state legislature for their consistent support of and collaboration on this critical legislation,” said Congressman Blake Moore. “I was grateful to use my role in Congress to play a part in this solutions-oriented approach to one of our region’s greatest challenges. Over the last two years, I have worked with Senator Romney and the Utah delegation to bring awareness and solutions to the challenges that threaten the Great Salt Lake and our neighboring saline lakes. I am thrilled this bill has received the support necessary to head to the president’s desk, and I thank all who have worked on this legislation to get it to the finish line.”

“This is a superb bill for the future of the Great Salt Lake and the animals and people who rely on it,” said Governor Spencer Cox. “It would address the economic value associated with the lake and the importance of migratory birds, help fill gaps in science around hydrology, integrate existing work being done on water quality, and assess future water needs. This legislation could be a key to ensuring the viability of the Great Salt Lake far into the future.”

“The Great Salt Lake continuing to shrink will result in lasting negative consequences to Utah’s ecosystem, economy and quality of life,” said Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams. “The Utah Legislature’s efforts, combined with those in Congress, will have significant and positive impacts. I appreciate Congressman Moore’s work and leadership on this issue at the federal level and look forward to reviewing and utilizing the findings to further our efforts to protect the Great Salt Lake.”

“Saving the Great Salt Lake and protecting our available water sources is no small task and will require significant efforts from all Utahns – government, organizations, businesses, and individuals,” said Speaker Brad Wilson. “I appreciate Congressman Moore’s efforts to bring attention to and funding for the Great Salt Lake from a national level. As Utah’s leaders, we are doing everything we can to ensure Utah has enough water to meet our current needs and continue to support a growing and thriving population.”

“Our lands and waters—including saline lakes in Oregon like Lake Abert and Goose Lake—are integral to the survival of countless animals and migratory birds,” said Senator Merkley. “These ecosystems must be protected, but we can’t do that without sufficient data. With the passage of this bipartisan bill, we are one step closer to securing the studies and science needed to put long-term plans into action to ensure our saline lakes ecosystems can thrive for generations to come.”

“With the Great Salt Lake currently at the lowest levels ever recorded, we must do whatever is necessary to save it,” said Senator Romney. “I was proud to lead this legislation with Senator Merkley and Congressman Moore, which will establish a scientific foundation and ongoing monitoring system to inform coordinated management and conservation actions for threatened Great Basin saline lake ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This legislation will complement and help elevate the work already being done by the State of Utah to understand this key resource and the role it plays as part of the larger landscape. I urge President Biden to sign our bill without delay so we can save this iconic and cherished part of Utah.”

“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. “Our bill 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 – and I’m glad to see pass the Senate and on its way to become law.” 

“Great Salt Lake and the network of saline lake ecosystems in the arid West face very serious challenges with increasingly low water levels, placing local communities and millions of migratory birds at risk,” said Marcelle Shoop, Saline Lakes Program Director for the National Audubon Society. “The additional resources and technical expertise provided within this indispensable science-based program will build on current efforts locally to conserve these habitats, while advancing collaborative solutions across the Great Basin to protect people and birds. Audubon is grateful to Rep. Moore and Rep. Huffman, and Sen. Merkley and Sen. Romney, for championing this important bill.”

“This was a great effort to get this help through Congress at this time,” said Scott W. Maxman, General Manager and CEO of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. “The Great Salt Lake, as well as other saline lakes in the region, require all hands on deck. My hope is that the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Actwill bring many of us together to help us understand all of the issues impacting these lakes and thus bringing us closer to real solutions.”

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. 

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 Governor Cox and 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 the National Wildlife Federation. The bill supports the work authorized under the Concurrent Resolution to Address Declining Water Levels of the Great Salt Lake, which passed the Utah State Legislature unanimously in 2019.  

In addition, the bill is also cosponsored by Representatives Susie Lee (D-NV), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Burgess Owens (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), Chris Stewart (R-UT), and Mark Amodei (R-NV). 

Audubon appreciates the many continued partnerships which were key in bringing much-needed scientific attention to these unique lakes. The bill text can be found here. The coalition support letter can be found here and Governor Cox’s support letter can be found here.

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Press Contact:

Joey Kahn, National Audubon Society
Communications Director, Water Conservation
joey.kahn@audubon.org

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