Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World

I am always surprised when some piece of information I’m looking for is actually not on the Internet.  Such was the case this afternoon when I searched for a list of the largest endorheic waterbodies in the world.  An endorheic waterbody is a terminal lake (sometimes called a sea) that has no outlet other than evaporation.  In other words, rivers and streams flow in but nothing flows out.  Since the only way water escapes is via evaporation everything else – salt, nutrients, pollution – are continuously concentrated in the remaining water.  Some, like the Dead Sea, are so salty they cannot support life, but others support very unique ecosystems.

I’ve become interested in endorheic lakes because they are a microcosm for a number of water-related issues and act as a catchall for the pollution we put into our waterways.  Take, for example, Devils Lake in North Dakota.  Having no outlet means that the level of the lake can increase dramatically over a short period of time.  Since 1995, water levels have gone up nearly 25 feet destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and inundating thousands of acres of productive farmland.  State government constructed an outlet to release water into a nearby river but faced stern opposition from other states and Canada, who don’t want pollution and parasites from Devils Lake transferred into their waters.  As you can see, it can become quite the predicament.  Just wait until I get around to blogging about the Salton Sea!

Anyway, I was searching the Internet for a list of the largest endorheic lakes and I just couldn’t find one.  Sure, Wikipedia has a list of the largest lakes in the world, but this only includes a handful of endorheic lakes.  Wikipedia also has a page on endorheic basins, which mentions a lot of lakes but not in any structured way.  It also intermingles them with drainage basins, which may capture water without outlet but are clearly not lakes.  So, Internet, you’re welcome, because today I have constructed for you a list of the Top Ten Endorheic Lakes of the World (by surface area). Continue reading Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World

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Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Dead tree in the Blackwater wetlands

This winter I had an opportunity to visit the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  The Blackwater watershed contains one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands, however, sea level rise, erosion, subsidence, salt water intrusion, polluted runoff, and invasive species have resulted in the loss of over 8,000 acres of marsh (at a rate of 150 acres per year).  The marshes are a great place for viewing wildlife, especially bald eagles, and are used by over 50,000 migratory birds as a stopover during fall migration.

I have to admit that when I visited and looked out at the open water I thought I was looking out on to the Chesapeake Bay.  Only after coming home and looking at a map did I realize how far removed the wetlands are from the bay. Continue reading Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Dam Removal and Waterfront Property on the Boardman River – Traverse City, MI

Removal of the Brown Bridge Dam could begin as soon as Spring 2011.

As part of my recently completed graduate degree in Urban Planning I undertook an independent project that looked at the effects of dam removal on property values in Traverse City, MI.  Basically, the city has proposed the removal of four dams along a 17-mile stretch of the Boardman River.  However, at least 27 owners of waterfront property along one of the impoundments are vehemently opposed to the plan.

Property owners claim, logically, that removal of the dams (and the subsequent loss of their waterfront property) will result in a massive decline in the value of their land.  In response, Traverse City put out a study that claimed property values along the river would not fall due to dam removal, in fact, they could rise by as much as 1% a year over twenty years (that’s in addition to otherwise expected increases in property values).

Like the residents of Traverse City, I had trouble reconciling these two viewpoints and went on a mission to understand the city’s rationale.  I read all the publicly available documents, e-mailed officials and residents, and read the reports that the reports were based on (and sometimes the reports those were based on as well!).  What I found was that the city’s logic for predicting a net gain in property values was at the very least poorly explained and at the worst grossly misguided.

As an Urban Planner, it pains me when public planning processes are not seen as fair and transparent.  I support the goals of restoring natural river flows and ecosystems, but if cities cannot be honest with their residents, they will increasingly face sterner opposition from property owners effected by the dam removal process.

Continue reading Dam Removal and Waterfront Property on the Boardman River – Traverse City, MI

The Ogallala Aquifer and the Worst Hard Time

Over the Holidays I had the opportunity to read a great book recommended to me by a professor of urban planning economics.  Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl is a fascinating look at one of the country’s greatest environmental disasters.  The dust storms that ravaged the high plains throughout the 1930’s brought death and destructions to thousands of Americans who moved to the area over the previous 50 years to take advantage of cheap land and soaring wheat prices.

You may have heard of the American dust storms before but Egan’s tale brings these storms to light in new and horrifying ways.  Dust storms would black out the sun for days on end as people huddled in shelters.  At times the air was so full of dust that candles could not get enough air to stay lit.  Children walking home from school were literally suffocated to death by clouds of dust.  Men could not shake hands because static electricity built up in the clouds of dust to the point where touching another person could knock them off their feet and barbed wire fences hummed with an electric blue glow as storms approached.  Thousands died of dust pneumonia as the silica-laden dust particles scarred their lungs until they could not longer function.  This really was the worst hard time. Continue reading The Ogallala Aquifer and the Worst Hard Time