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.
From the State Water Resources Control Board:
The State Water Resources Control Board today announced that urban Californians’ monthly water conservation declined to 17.7 percent in August, down from 27 percent savings in August 2015, raising concerns that some water suppliers are abandoning their focus on conservation as California heads into a possible sixth drought year.
“The statewide August conservation results raise questions, and we are examining the data to understand why some areas slipped more than others,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Are we seeing relaxation of conservation messaging and programs, or are we seeing abandonment of programs? One may be appropriate, the other is not. It’s a mixed picture. Many communities who certified that they didn’t ‘need’ to conserve are still conserving up a storm, while others have slipped more than seems prudent.”
Marcus added: “While last year’s rain and snow brought a respite for urban California, we are still in drought, and we can’t know what this winter will bring. What we do know is that climate change will continue to make our water years even more unpredictable, so we need to retain our conservation habits for the long term, rain or shine, drought or no drought.”
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.
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."
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.
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.
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