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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Lakes are landlocked, but that doesn't lessen their significance when it comes to the harmful effects of drought, according to a recent gathering of scientists in Salt Lake City.
A few dozen scientists, educators and government officials met a conference last week, declaring that Western lakes deserve the same attention and protection as more obvious drought-affected water sources such as rivers and streams.
"We think of the Great Salt Lake as a dead lake, but it's not," noted Tony Willardson, associate director of the Western States Water Council, the group co-sponsoring the conference with the California-based Water Education Foundation.
Comparisons between the Great Salt Lake and lakes in California such as Owens Lake and Mona Lake illustrated how "terminal water bodies" are overlooked when it comes to water management.
Water is often diverted from rivers flowing into lakes for irrigation, causing lake levels to drop. If the levels drop too low, exposed minerals can become dust that worsens air quality to dangerous degrees, a phenomena currently happening at the Great Salt Lake.
The gathering included a field trip to the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area and to Antelope Island, where conference attendees learned how volatile the lake's ecology is depending on how high the water is and what water is flowing into it. Many wildlife species depend on the lake to live.
"Often the fixes for these lakes are not so much technical as simply increasing the flow of water," said Rita Schmidt Sudman, executive director of the Water Education Foundation.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-25-04 1103MDT