Sacramento, Calif. – Officials at Audubon California today expressed strong support for a regional agreement between states that use Colorado River water to keep water in Lake Mead and avoid costly water shortages across the Colorado River Basin, and that any such agreement should resolve issues related to the Salton Sea.

Beginning in 2018, the Salton Sea will begin receiving less water from the Colorado River, eventually up to 40% less. The shrinking sea will expose up to 64,000 acres of the lakebed and result in massive dust storms that could create the worst air pollution crisis in North America. Tens of thousands of acres of habitat will disappear. As the State of California is leading efforts to address the crisis at the Salton Sea, a potential agreement to draw less water from the Colorado River will likely complicate the effort.

“We cannot trade one crisis for another,” said Michael Lynes, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “Any larger agreement that affects California’s call on Colorado River water must include provision that improve – rather than worsen – conditions at the Salton Sea. There is no need to make the communities and wildlife around the Salton Sea suffer in order to address water management needs on the Colorado River.”

Lynes noted that the challenges facing the Colorado River are system-wide and should be addressed as such.

“A new agreement is an opportunity to address the structural shortcomings of our traditional water management in the Colorado River basin, which includes the Salton Sea,” Lynes said. “Any agreement related to the use of Colorado River resources should create a stable water future for the environment, communities, and agriculture across the region, including the Salton Sea.”

The Colorado River and its tributaries support hundreds of species of breeding birds such as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Bell’s Vireo, Summer Tanager, Yellow Warbler and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Freshwater habitats (rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and deltas) are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the arid West.

More than 300 bird species rely on the deep water, shoreline, mudflats, and wetlands at the Salton Sea, as well as the river channels and agricultural drains leading into it. Tilapia live in the deeper waters, providing essential food for many species, including California Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Caspian Tern. Perhaps the sea’s greatest value for birds is its ability to support very large numbers of waterbirds during the winter months, including up to 90% of North America’s Eared Grebes, 50% of Ruddy Ducks, and 30% of the American White Pelicans. The mudflats and shorelines are also essential for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. It has been declared an Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance.

About Audubon California

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. Audubon California is a field program of Audubon, which has more than 60,000 members in California and an affiliated 48 local chapters dedicated to protecting birds, wildlife and the habitats that support them.

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