Water is of vital importance to the survival of California’s birds and the habitats that support them.
Snow Geese at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Scott Flaherty/USFWS
California in 2016 entered its fifth straight year of drought, and the ramifications for birds and people are considerable.
Water, of course, is fundamental to our lives, our communities, and our economy. Public policy around water allocations and usage is serious business. Water is also of vital importance to the survival of California’s birds and the habitats that support them. That’s why Audubon California has been at the forefront: advocating for birds during important policy discussions around the recent water bond, drought response, and water allocations to critical wildlife refuges.
The National Audubon Society new strategic plan creates an initiative around water that takes into account its growing importance in our organization’s ongoing efforts to safeguard birds. Nowhere is that focus more apparent than in California, where water is at the center of several important initiatives.
Below you will find links to the important work that Audubon California is doing around water and birds.
Audubon California's Khara Strum ventures out to Sutter County to visit a rice farm that is flooding early to provide habitat for migratory birds. She uses the visit to talk about our work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Rice Commission to provide more habitat for these birds on farms.
The U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed H.R. 23, which we opposed because it seeks to wrest control over much of California's water from the state to the feds. If eventually signed by President Trump, it will overturn decades of negotiations on water in California. Audubon California opposes it because it will divert water from the Center Valley refuges, undermine the Endangered Species Act, and halt the restoration of the San Joaquin River. Audubon activists sent about 3,500 emails to Congress just in the last week in opposition to this bad bill. Now it moves on to the Senate, where we will continue our fight.
Audubon President David Yarnold writes today in the Los Angeles Times about how short-sighted management of water in the arid West is putting birds -- and people -- at risk. Speaking about the shrinking saline lakes -- such as the Salton Sea and the Great Salt Lake -- he notes that birds are incredibly reliant on these ecosystems that have been increasingly destabilized by diversions.
"Because water birds in the West depend on the region’s entire network of salt lakes, these declines could be catastrophic for the global populations of some species. For instance, 99% of the North American population of eared grebes — small waterfowl distinguished by bright red eyes that are framed by sassy tufts of golden feathers — depends on western saline lakes to survive their long migrations. What’s more, dams, diversions, extended drought and water demand along the Colorado River have devastated cottonwood-willow forests and other native river habitat. While this riverbank habitat accounts for less than 5% of the regional landscape, it supports more than 40% of all bird species in the Southwest."
We've always said that for some birds and habitat areas, it's always a drought. This new piece from Water Deeply is latest example.
A recent opinion piece in the Bakersfield Californian argued that while Central Valley refuges are getting 100 percent of their water allocations, farmers were getting substantially less. That's just not true, and Harry Love of the Kern Audubon Society recently took to the same paper to explain why:
"Most of the Central Valley Project’s farm and urban water contractors will receive 100 percent of their contract amount with the federal government. The most junior South of Delta federal water contractors are projected to receive 65 percent of their contract amount and that allocation will likely increase in coming months.
"But there is another user that will not receive full water supplies – Central Valley wetlands. More than 90 percent of the Central Valley’s historic wetlands are gone. Our waterfowl populations have fallen from 40 million historically to 5 million today. Even at this diminished level, the Valley is one of the most important places in America for ducks, geese and other migratory waterbirds ...
"This year, the federal government announced an allocation of 100 percent of the minimum water supply for wetlands but this is far short of the full water contracts for our wetlands. The Bureau of Reclamation has an obligation to purchase or develop additional water supplies to meet the full needs of the Valley’s few remaining wetlands.
It is not clear yet how close the Bureau will get this fall to delivering full water supplies when wetlands need water most. In recent years, federal agencies have provided an average of only 32 percent of this critical water for south of Delta refuges. Unfortunately, this shortage of water for Valley wetlands is often overlooked.
To create critical habitat, hunting opportunities, and more, Central Valley wetlands are highly managed and irrigated, much like farmland. So when wetland water managers get only 32 percent of a key supply, it matters. This shortage reduces spring and summer habitat for ducks that breed here. It reduces the amount of food from wetlands plants that feed migratory birds in the fall. It increases the risk of overcrowding and disease.
Like Valley farmers, duck hunters and wetland managers need water supplies to manage their lands to support wildlife and recreational opportunities. However, in the last 25 years, the Bureau has not once delivered all of the water owed to wetlands. The truth is that the Valley’s two large water projects, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, have never delivered 100 percent of their combined water obligations in a single year."
Audubon California News comes to your email inbox every month with updates on our activities throughout the state, as well as other important conservation news.