This spot, 50 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, was once part of the Colorado River Delta wetlands, which have been effectively eliminated by upriver dams. Photo: Pete McBride

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Smarter Water Decisions Could Help End the West's Dry Run

Audubon is working to make sure that new water-sharing rules protect and restore habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Rivers, lakes, and wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate across the West, where years of drought are cementing the idea that dry is normal and that we have to find new ways to manage our water resources. A century of intensive water development has already taken a toll, and birds have generally lost ground in a rigid water management framework that does not take them into account. But the Colorado River and its tributaries, as well as saline lakes like the Salton Sea, are key breeding and stopover areas for millions of birds.

People who steward the West’s scarce water resources are now planning for how we live with less water, and making historic changes to longstanding rules. They know it makes no sense to trade one crisis for another. We need water in our faucets so our cities continue to thrive, we need it in irrigation canals to grow our food and fiber, and we need it in our rivers to sustain the natural world around us. 

But hope is drying up for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Listed as endangered, this bird and dozens more that rely on water in the West, like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eared Grebe, and White-faced Ibis, are in grave danger across the region. Without action, global populations of birds like the Yuma Ridgway’s Rail could disappear. Our health and our economies are at stake, too.

There are encouraging signs. As water-sharing rules are revised to meet the needs of people across the West, Audubon policy leaders and science experts are engaging with water users and decision makers to find new solutions that protect and restore bird and wildlife habitat at the Salton Sea and in the Colorado River Delta. Collaborating with a range of partners in government and philanthropy, Audubon is standing up for balanced water planning and dedicated federal funding for water conservation. With your help we can expand our reach to watersheds across the arid West.

Visit www.audubon.org/westernwater today and call on members of Congress to help birds survive by supporting water conservation programs and incentives. 

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