Lake Abert: What’s the Solution?

Ned Austin

watch

Sage Steppes

Sage Steppes

voices

Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

Bonnie Olin, 2017 Volunteer of the Year

“If you spend enough time in the wild, it will change you. So it was for me in Oregon’s high desert, especially in the Owyhee Canyonlands.” To support ONDA, Bonnie says, is to strive to protect the very values of Oregon’s high desert that are critical to the human experience: quiet and connectedness with nature. “Oregon’s desert,” she says, “broadens your understanding of your relationship to all living things.”

voices

Taylor Goforth, Sage Sustainers member

Taylor Goforth, Sage Sustainers member

“I support ONDA on a monthly basis as a way I can keep in touch with the root of my conservation ethic and allow for their strong advocacy work to keep going. I count on them!”

April 2021
Photo: Ron Larson / The Oregonian

June 2021
Photo: Ryan Houston

lake abert july 2021

July 2021
Photo: Ron Larson / The Oregonian

While the situation is deeply unfortunate, the state has the opportunity to remedy it. The state can reverse the missteps of the past by addressing the still pending water permitting process for the reservoir. This should be a priority, with every relevant state agency contributing to follow through on the commitments made three decades ago. By following through today, we can at least re-set to the commitments of the early 1990s. This wouldn’t solve the entirety of the problems facing Lake Abert but it would help alleviate the severity of the problems we see today.

What you can do

Lake Abert is not alone in the problems it faces and we’re hopeful that it may benefit from the kind of focused conservation initiatives that have benefited similar lake ecosystems in the West. Mono Lake is famous for the use of the Public Trust Doctrine to bolster its protection in the 1980s. Walker Lake in Nevada has benefitted from the Congressionally-established Walker Basin Restoration Program begun in 2009. And the Great Salt Lake in Utah is now poised to benefit from a $40 million restoration funding package — unanimously passed in 2022 by the Utah Senate and recently signed into law — to restore critical streamflows to the system.

If California, Nevada and Utah can work so hard to protect and restore their very own versions of Lake Abert, can’t we do the same here in Oregon? Of course, we can and of course, we must. We can draw examples and inspiration from our neighbors, learn from their experiences, and bring the best strategies to bear as we work to save Lake Abert.

Progress in our neighboring states came from many people pulling together, diligently working the issues and refusing to accept “it can’t be done” as an answer. There is no doubt that the problems facing Lake Abert are complex, the solutions are difficult and the challenges are real. But if we all continue to stay focused on restoring this important system, advocate for strong leadership from the State and pursue every possible opportunity to help the lake, we will ultimately be able to save Lake Abert.

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