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

Drought’s impact at Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary
Audublog

Drought’s impact at Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary

The beautiful Lazuli Bunting is a one of the more striking birds typically seen during the Southern Californian summer.

Lake Mead announcement emphasizes importance of resolving water supply reliability in CO River and Salton Sea
Press Center

Lake Mead announcement emphasizes importance of resolving water supply reliability in CO River and Salton Sea

— Audubon California urges state and federal officials to secure water supply reliability in the Lower Colorado Basin and the Salton Sea.
Salton Sea's evolving flows
Audublog

Salton Sea's evolving flows

Let's take a closer look at the changes in water flows that are driving the current effort to restore bird habitat at California's largest inland lake.

How Birds Benefit from the Colorado River
Water

How Birds Benefit from the Colorado River

Learn more about how Audubon is helping birds along the Colorado River.

Marcos Trinidad on his love for the Salton Sea
Water

Marcos Trinidad on his love for the Salton Sea

The Debs Park director says he'll do whatever it takes to make sure future generations get the joy he does from this special lake.

Before and after at the Salton Sea

A picture says a thousand words, as the saying goes. The above postcard from the 1950s shows a bustling Salton Sea Marina, a center of fun and recreation.San Bernardino Valley Audubon's Drew Feldman recently visited the exact same location and took the photo below, which shows just how much things have changed over the years.

Salton Sea Marina in 2016. Photo: Drew Feldman

Salton Sea at the center of new Western water conflict?

Salton Sea hosts a wide diversity of birds. Photo: T Patel

Fascinating piece today in the Los Angeles Times about the growing concern over declining water levels in Lake Mead that, if they continue to fall, could trigger substantial water cuts in Arizona and New Mexico. Because of this pressure is growing on California users to reduce its use of Colorado River Water. You might recall recently that the Imperial Irrigation District, one of the primary users of water from the Colorado River, has said that will be uncomfortable with any agreement regarding Colorado River water unless the major issues of habitat conservation and dust mitigation at the Salton Sea are resolved.

"All the parties are under pressure to reach an agreement by the end of this year, before the current administration leaves office and the process has to start anew with new federal overseers. But the interstate complexities may pale in comparison with the difficulty of working out agreements among water users within each state. California's Imperial Irrigation District, which has the largest entitlement of Colorado River water, has balked at any agreement to preserve water levels in Lake Mead without a parallel agreement to preserve the Salton Sea. That huge inland pond has suffered as a result of earlier multi-billion-dollar deals by which the Imperial Irrigation District transferred water to San Diego, the MWD and other users.

The shrinkage of the sea already is an environmental and public health disaster. Withholding more water in Lake Mead without a rescue plan would be unacceptable, Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Kelley said recently. "The Salton Sea has always been the elephant in the room in these talks," he told the Desert Sun newspaper."

Drought and dead trees add up to big fire risk for California in 2016

California's King Fire in 2014. Photo: USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning of a high risk of intense fires in 2016 thanks to a combination of ongoing drought and a large number of dead trees in the Sierra.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a briefing on the fire season in Washington, D.C., "“You’ve got 40 million dead trees. You’ve got 40 million opportunities for fire. You’re looking at a very serious situation.”

While fire is a natural occurance in California's open spaces, intense fires can have a number of bad consequences for birds and other wildlife. Not only can large swaths of habitat be wiped out, but the intensity of the blazes can actually cause the habitat to change type -- which leaves little opportunity for native birds to return.

Imperial Irrigation District highlights issue of Salton Sea with respect to interstate water negotiations on Colorado River

With news that representatives of California, Arizona, and Nevada are negotiating potential cutbacks to relieve water usage from the overtaxed Colorado River, the water district holding the largest rights to Colorado River water said that issues at the Salton Sea need to be resolved before any settlement regarding the Colorado River.

California's use of Colorado River water the subject of multi-state negotiations

News emerged in late April of ongoing negotiations among representatives of California, Nevada, and Arizona about the use of water from the Colorado River, which is on the verge of a major shortage. While details of the negotiations aren't clear, the goal has been to keep more water in Lake Mead to stave off a declaration of a shortage.

How you can help, right now