A Balance Upset
Two invertebrates are able to tolerate the salinity of Lake Abert — the alkali fly (Ephydra hians) and brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) — but only when water salinity levels are between 3 and 8%. When salinity drops below or rises above that threshold, the fly and shrimp populations plummet due to inhospitable conditions.
Since these two species serve as the main source of food for migrating birds, changes in their population present a major disruption in the Pacific Flyway migration route.
Unfortunately, water withdrawals, reservoir construction and drought have reduced water flow into the lake, increasing its salinity or drying up the lake altogether. With the food gone, migratory birds can’t depend on stopping at this saline lake to replenish their energy.
Saving Lake Abert
Lake Abert is an indispensable ecosystem where birdwatchers and nature lovers alike can appreciate the wonders of the salt lake, and today it is at great risk.
The Bureau of Land Management has classified the lake and the adjacent Abert Rim as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. However, the lake itself does not have any water rights so upstream withdrawals from the Chewaucan River, can leave the lake with little or no water, especially during climate change-related drought.
Long-term conservation, management and restoration of the unique habitat that desert saline lakes provide starts with a deeper understanding of their hydrology, biology and ecology. In 2021, Senator Merkley introduced legislation that will be vital to conducting this needed research.
In the meantime, ONDA is urging the state of Oregon to take steps to support water delivery to the lake. We are committed to being a strong partner in understanding and ultimately conserving these fragile ecosystems.
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