Attack on Central Valley refuge water is the wrong answer to the drought crisis

Representatives of Audubon California today said that a lawsuit filed yesterday by the Friant Water Authority makes a wrongheaded attempt to solve the drought crisis by diverting water from the Central Valley wildlife refuges. Audubon California noted that reduced water allocations due to the drought have caused pain for every water stakeholder in the valley.

“Failure to provide water to the Central Valley wildlife refuges would be a violation of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and would devastate habitat that millions of migratory birds rely upon for survival,” said Michael Lynes, director of public policy for Audubon California. “Given that the refuges only get a tiny percentage of the total water supplied from the Central Valley Project, the Friant Authority action would see the refuges destroyed for—at best—minimal and temporary relief.”

A century ago, Central Valley wetlands supported 40 million migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway. By the 1980s, however, 95 percent of those wetlands had been lost to the creation of the great agricultural engine and communities that make up the Valley today. The 19 Central Valley wetlands are the last vestiges of that habitat, and millions of birds depend on them for survival.

Acknowledging the massive impacts to wildlife from federal irrigation, Congress in 1992 passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to support habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife in the Central Valley. This legislation mandated minimum allocations of water to the network of federal wildlife refuges, state wildlife areas and private wetlands in the Central Valley.

While this commitment is just a tiny fraction of the water allocated elsewhere in the Valley, it is critical for creating a minimum amount of habitat needed to support species, some that are traveling from as far away as the Artic on their way to the southern tip of South America. How we manage our refuges here not only impacts our communities and resident wildlife, but the ripple effects will be felt across the Pacific Flyway.

“The Friant Water Authority lawsuit divides the various interests in the Central Valley, pitting one beneficial use against another, at a time when we need unity and sound, sustainable policy,” Lynes added.

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. With more than 50,000 members in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society. 

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