Water and birds

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.

Drought and birds
Seas & Shores

Drought and birds

With the California drought entering its fifth straight year in 2016, the impacts to birds are already being seen and felt.

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Fighting for Central Valley birds
Seas & Shores

Fighting for Central Valley birds

Audubon California continues to advocate for adequate water supplies for Central Valley refuges.

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Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Securing a home for birds at the Salton Sea

Audubon California is helping secure the future of one of the state's key bird habitats.

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New opportunities for birds at Owens Lake
Important Bird Areas

New opportunities for birds at Owens Lake

Audubon California is working with Eastern Sierra Audubon to take advantage of a unique opportunity to support migratory birds at Owens Lake.

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San Joaquin River restoration
Important Bird Areas

San Joaquin River restoration

The San Joaquin River is one of the most threatened rivers in North American, and we need to bring it back to its former glory.

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Latest news

The fight continues for responsible water management in California’s Central Valley
Water

The fight continues for responsible water management in California’s Central Valley

Audubon California and other conservation groups vow to oppose H.R. 23 in the Senate.

House passes H.R. 23, the worst water bill we've seen

Waterfowl at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Jim Gain

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.

David Yarnold op-ed: Saline lakes are drying up across the West — and putting birds at serious risk

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."

Conservation groups demand to be included in high-level Salton Sea talks
Salton Sea

Conservation groups demand to be included in high-level Salton Sea talks

Audubon California joined with Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club to ensure that public health and environmental issues are addressed.

Bird populations crashing at the Salton Sea

Excellent reporting in the Desert Sun about how observers are starting to see dramatic declines in bird populations at the Salton Sea. Time is running out to fix things.

Following this year's rains, not all birds and habitat areas getting water

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.

Central Valley birds getting much-needed water for habitat
Water

Central Valley birds getting much-needed water for habitat

But even in a wet year, infrastructure issues prevent water from getting to birds in some refuges.

A lake reappears among the birds and wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain
Water

A lake reappears among the birds and wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain

An amazing landscape comes back to life following winter rains

No, refuges don't get 100% of their water allocations -- ever

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."

Governor declares drought emergency over

California Gov. Jerry Brown today declared the end of the state's drought emergency:

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a statement. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

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