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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Latest news

San Joaquin Valley floor still falling due to groundwater pumping

We've talked about this before, but pumping from aquifers under the San Joaquin Valley is continuing to cause the valley floor to sink significantly:

Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.

The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.

Yolo Bypass springing back to life

Great article in the Los Angeles Times about how recent rains have brought the struggling Yolo Bypass near Sacramento back to life.

Rains helping Mono Lake right when it needs it the most

Mono Lake is an important place for birds, and it has been teetering lately as a result of declining water levels. That's changing with these recent rains, notes the Los Angeles Times.

Early draft of state Salton Sea management plan circulating

Buried in this mid-December article about negotiations to finalize a plan to avoid shortages at the Colorado River are early details of the much-awaited 10-year management plan for the Salton Sea. This is the plan that the state will eventually rely upon to protect bird habitat at the Salton Sea, and reduce dangerous dust pollution caused as the sea recedes. Anyway, here's what the article says about the plan:

"The document, which was obtained by The Desert Sun, summarizes the state’s proposals for a “smaller but sustainable lake” and lays out broad goals for building new wetlands along the lake’s receding shores to cover up stretches of exposed lake bottom and provide habitat for birds.

The document says an estimated 50,000 acres of “playa” will be left dry and exposed around the lake by 2028. The construction of “water backbone infrastructure” is to begin with ponds where water from the lake’s tributaries will be routed to create new wetlands. According to the 24-page document, which describes the Salton Sea Management Program, initial construction will start on exposed lakebed west of the mouth of the New River “to take advantage of existing permits.”

The draft says that in addition to building wetlands, the state also will use “waterless dust suppression” techniques in some areas. Those approaches can include using tractors to plow stretches of lakebed to create dust-catching furrows, or even laying down bales of hay on the exposed lake bottom as barriers to block windblown dust."

Audubon California has been deeply involved in the process of creating the state management plan, and will continue to advocate for sufficient habitat for birds and other wildlife. A recent report from Audubon California determined that the Salton Sea needs to provide about 58,000 acres of habitat to maintain the bird populations currently using the lake.

House ‘drought’ bill could have disastrous effects for Central Valley birds
Water

House ‘drought’ bill could have disastrous effects for Central Valley birds

Drought bill introduced on first day of the 115th Congress rolls back protections for birds and the environment that Californians have supported for decades.

Talking about migratory birds in the Central Valley

Audubon California's Khara Strum recently took to Capital Public radio to talk about migratory birds in the Central Valley, and particularly how they use agricultural fields as surrogate habitat. Listen to the interview here.

Congress passes controversial water bill

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

Over the objections of Audubon California and other conservation organizations, Congress over the weekend passed major water infrastructure legislation that included last-minute language that has the potential to undermine the Endangered Species Act and destabilize the wetland habitat that millions of birds need to survive.

The issue was difficult, because members of Congress were eager to pass the larger Water Resources Development Act that contained vital funding for projects around the country, and this controversial language was inserted into the bill in the last few days, giving representatives very little time to remove it.

More than 3,700 Audubon activists joined the chorus objecting to the language, but the language still passed.

Exploring bird habitat in the Colorado River Delta
Audublog

Exploring bird habitat in the Colorado River Delta

An Audubon team examines what remains, what has been lost, and where there are opportunities to bring habitat back.

Proposed 'drought-response' language holds dangers for birds and wildlife
Press Center

Proposed 'drought-response' language holds dangers for birds and wildlife

Audubon California joins many other conservation organizations in urging lawmakers to reject rider to Water Resources Development Act that undermines the Endangered Species Act and destabilizes water deliveries to Central Valley wildlife refuges.

Wet fall is helping Central Valley birds

Mixed flock of ducks rise up over a wetland. Photo: Gary Kramer/USFWS

While the drought is far from over, the wet fall we're experiencing is certainly helping Central Valley birds, according to the Sacramento Bee.

How you can help, right now