Senate Unanimously Passes Bipartisan Romney, Merkley Legislation to Protect Long-Term Health of Saline Ecosystems

Legislation builds on Utah’s efforts as the Great Salt Lake hit historically low water levels

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would facilitate an integrated regional assessment of saline lake ecosystems and fill a critical data gap that has made it nearly impossible to address a variety of problems caused by declining water levels. Representatives Blake Moore (R-UT) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) are leading companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is also sponsored by Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), and Burgess Owens (R-UT).

“With the Great Salt Lake currently at the lowest levels ever recorded, we must do whatever is necessary to save it,” Senator Romney said.“I was proud to lead this legislation with Senator Merkley, 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 my colleagues in the House to pass this legislation immediately so we can save this iconic and cherished part of Utah.”

“Our lands and waters—including our saline lakes like Lake Abert and Goose Lake—are integral to the survival of countless animals and migratory birds, as well as Oregonians’ quality of life and livelihoods,” said Senator Merkley. “These ecosystems must be protected, but we can’t do that without sufficient data. With Senate 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.”

“I am thrilled the Senate unanimously passed my bill with Senator Romney, the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act,” said Congressman Blake Moore. “The Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the West are critical to our environment and industries. It is imperative that we take steps to preserve these precious resources, and I am grateful the Senate chose to support these efforts. Because this version differs slightly from my bill that passed the House in July, I look forward to working tirelessly to advance it through the House.”

“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 Rep. 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.”

“This is a superb bill for the future of the Great Salt Lake and the animals and people who rely on it,” Governor Spencer Cox said. “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.”

“Saline lakes and their wetlands in the arid West sustain millions of migratory birds while also benefitting local communities and their economies,” said Marcelle Shoop, National Audubon Society’s Saline Lakes Program Director. “This science-based legislation comes at such an important time—as we see lakes across the Great Basin drying at an alarming rate. The regional program will build on existing knowledge to help us understand how water supplies and habitats are changing, and identify opportunities where we all can work together on solutions. We’re grateful for the leadership of Senator Romney and Senator Merkley in championing this important legislation.”

The Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act would authorize a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)—in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, research universities, non-profit organizations, and other partners—in order to form an action plan for a robust multi-year integrated program to assess, monitor, and conserve saline lake ecosystems. Cosponsors of the legislation include Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Full text of the legislation can be found here. An amended version of the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19 as part of a larger drought and wildfire package. The Senate passed an unamended version, so the legislation will now head back to the House for passage.

In July, the Senate passed Romney’s Great Salt Lake Recovery Act, legislation to study historic drought conditions and protect the long-term health of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Representatives Stewart (R-UT), Owens (R-UT), and Curtis (R-UT) lead the companion legislation in the House.