President Biden on Tuesday signed legislation allocating $25 million in funds to study salt lake ecosystems in the drought-stricken western states.
Record low water levels due to a lack of snowmelt have led to a “mega drought” in the region not suffered in a millennium.
The new funding will allow the U.S. Geological Survey to study the hydrology of the ecosystems in and around Utah’s Great Salt Lake, California’s Mono Lake, Oregon’s Lake Albert and other salt water lakes.
The lakes not only serve as crucial habitats for migratory birds, which have been threatened by the receding water levels, the rising dust exposure has caused dangerous health effects on surrounding communities’ populations.
Further, the drought has impacted food prices nationwide. A survey this past summer by The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) found drought conditions in 60% of U.S. farmland—not just out West, but in the Southwest and the Central Plains as well—is causing 40% of American farmers and ranchers to make tough decisions, like killing off crops before they reach maturity and selling off heads of cattle. That’s up 24% from last year.
Fruits, nuts, and vegetables come mostly from states with high levels of drought.
The legislation signed on Tuesday establishes a “Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Assessment and Monitoring Program” that will examine such variables as water use and demand and “climatic stressors.”
Marcelle Shoop, the Saline Lakes Program Director for the Audubon Society, said in a statement that the funding would complement existing conservation efforts.
For example, the legislation adds to $40 million that Utah lawmakers have already allocated to the Great Salt Lake for watershed enhancement programs this year. It also supplements $10 million in Army Corps of Engineers funding for the saline lakes passed as part of a defense spending bill.
The program does not mandate any conservation measures or institute new water management guidelines.