Recent desiccation of Western Great Basin Saline Lakes: Lessons from Lake Abert, Oregon, U.S.A

The Science of the Total Environment
Johnnie N Moore

Abstract

Although extremely important to migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and highly threatened globally, most saline lakes are poorly monitored. Lake Abert in the western Great Basin, USA, is an example of this neglect. Designated a critical habitat under the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, the lake is at near record historic low levels and ultra-high salinities that have resulted in ecosystem collapse. Determination of the direct human effects and broader climate controls on Lake Abert illustrates the broader problem of saline lake desiccation and suggests future solutions for restoration of key habitat values. A 65-year time series of lake area was constructed from Landsat images and transformed to lake volume and salinity. "Natural" (without upstream withdrawals) conditions were calculated from climate and stream flow data, and compared to measured volume and salinity. Under natural conditions the lake would have higher volume and lower salinities because annual water withdrawals account for one-third of mean lake volume. Without withdrawals, the lake would have maintained annual mean salinities mostly within the optimal range of brine shrimp and alkali fly growth. Even during the last two years of major drought, th...Continue Reading

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