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A plant from Australia is introduced to the U.S. as a yard ornamental; 150 years later, rivers and lakes dry up.

If you're ever tempted to think that some little, seemingly insignificant thing that you do (or don't do) can't have any wider or long-term consequences, remember the webs of ecology,and how everything is tied to everything else. For example, consider saltcedar.

Whoever brought it into this country from Australia in the early 1800s was probably proud of his innovative pioneering spirit. It had no use, but it was a new and different ornamental. (Studies have shown that saltcedar consistently attracts significantly fewer birds than native stands of cottonwood, willow and mesquite, so even its value as wildlife habitat is questionable.)

The plant escaped from the confines of yards and gardens, and now infests more than 1.5 million acres in the western United States. But that's not the worst of it.

Saltcedar uses twice as much water as most native plants.

It also narrows river channels. Saltcedar slows the river flow, increasing soil deposits. As sediments build along the river bank the channel narrows and streamflow is reduced. The same process occurs around lakes and reservoirs where saltcedar increasingly encroaches upon lake bottoms.

In an area near Artesia at Spring Lakes in New Mexico, there used to be two natural spring lakes. Saltcedar invaded the area in the 1950s and completely took over the lake areas. The springs stopped flowing and the lakes dried out.

In 1989 the area was sprayed with a new herbicide (Arsenal [R]). An estimated 95 percent of the saltcedar was killed.

In June, 1992, water appeared on the surface of the dry lake bed for the first time since the late 1960s, and the water level continues to rise.

"This development is especially important in light of the effects of the Pecos River Compact, which annually guarantees a certain amount of water delivered downriver to Texas, and other New Mexico water issues," according to a brush and weed scientist at the Artesia Agricultural Science Center.

An innocent-looking plant, carried from its native land to decorate home landscapes, contributed to drying faucets in a water-starved land almost 200 years later.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:saltcedar
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:345
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