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.

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

Audubon California this week is committing to a continued fight against a reckless water bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week. If eventually signed by President Trump, H.R. 23 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 Audubon California and other conservation organizations will continue our fight.

“Certain legislators are using the drought as an excuse to wipe out common sense environmental protections that they have always opposed, and that a majority of Californians have supported for decades,” said Michael Lynes, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “This bill reflects anti-environmental extremism of the worst kind – it’s all about taking more away from the environment, and decimating California’s fisheries and refuges, as a favor to corporate agricultural interests.”

The introduction of this legislation follows the insertion of language into the Water Resources Development Act late in the Lame Duck Congress that gave proponents of the new bill much of what they already sought in terms of the ability to move water through the Delta with fewer constraints under the Endangered Species Act.

A century ago, millions of acres of Central Valley wetlands supported 40 million migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway. By the 1980s, however, 95 percent of those wetlands had been lost, primarily to supply land and water to California’s sprawling agricultural industry. Farmers benefited from heavy federal subsidies to build the Central Valley Project and deliver inexpensive water from the northern half of the state to the arid San Joaquin Valley. As many large industrial agricultural operations flourished, habitat disappeared and fish and wildlife populations plummeted. Today, 19 Central Valley refuges form a fragile and essential backbone of habitat that millions of birds and other wildlife depend on for survival.

Acknowledging the massive impacts to wildlife from the Central Valley Project, Congress in 1992 passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to make protection and restoration of habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife a co-equal goal of the Project. This legislation mandated minimum allocations of water to the network of federal wildlife refuges, state wildlife areas and private wetlands in the Central Valley. Congressman Valadao’s legislation would strip away that purpose and increase diversions of water to at great expense to fish, wildlife, and California’s natural history.

“Birds, fish, and other wildlife are suffering right alongside other sectors of the Central Valley due to this drought,” added Lynes. “This legislation would turn our backs on the decades of investments in building and protecting California’s refuges.”

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 49 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

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