How drought, diversions, and a changing climate affect the arid West.
Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Water is the most precious resource in the West—for people, birds, and other wildlife. Riverside habitats like the forests and wetlands that line the Colorado River support some of the most abundant and diverse bird communities in the arid West, serving as home to some 400 species. The Colorado also provides drinking water for more than 36 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farms and ranches, and supports 16 million jobs throughout seven states, with a combined annual economic impact of $1.4 trillion.
Saline lakes—the landlocked saltwater lakes fringed with wetlands that dot the Intermountain West—are beacons for millions of birds crossing an otherwise arid landscape. But as water recedes (due to drought, water diversions, and climate change) and exposes toxic dust, not only is habitat lost, but surrounding communities—like the one near the Salton Sea—are at higher risk for asthma and other health issues. The risk of toxic dust is also increasing at Great Salt Lake—the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, and a critically important habitat for birds.
Precipitous declines in Western water quantity and quality risk the economic and environmental health and vitality of America’s West—putting communities and birds in jeopardy. Audubon continues to advocate for healthy rivers and lakes, as well as the wildlife, habitats, and people who depend on them.
The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West—it provides drinking water for nearly 40 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland, and supports wetlands and riparian forests along its banks providing critical habitat for hundreds of bird species. Our map shows the many canals, dams, irrigated agriculture, and vastness of the river and its tributaries.
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