As we celebrate World Water Day, it’s a time to reflect on the fact that water is the most critical resource for birds and people alike. Audubon focuses on ensuring clean and reliable water is available in the places that birds need most. A key part of this strategy includes advocating for federal policies that improve water quality and conservation, ensure sufficient water is delivered to the places that birds need most, and restore degraded habitats for birds like Wood Stork, Ridgeway’s Rail, and Piping Plover.
Despite all of the challenges faced in 2020, significant progress was made to improve water policy in the United States:
- A key funding bill brought substantial increases in conservation investments for the restoration and protection of habitat in places that rely on clean, sufficient water, including record high funding for the Everglades and the Delaware River.
- The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act passed, which will increase resources available for this crucial conservation program to $475 million by 2024.
- The America’s Great Outdoors Act is now law, securing a mandatory $900 million per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a critical tool for protecting public land and water resources.
- A suite of water bills passed, which will address the ongoing drought and water conservation in the arid West.
- And finally, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 was enacted into law, paving the way for the use of natural infrastructure to restore ecosystems and increase the resilience of our coasts and inland waterways.
Even with these great accomplishments, a number of water policy challenges remain. The Trump Administration weakened or gutted 125 key environmental laws, including a roll back of Clean Water Act protections; this roll back makes it easier to drain and destroy certain wetlands, lakes, and streams. Unfortunately, the waterbodies that birds rely on most during breeding and migration – ephemeral or short hydro-period wetlands that are wet only part of the year – are targeted specifically and are now more at risk to drainage and destruction.
With uncertainty around how federal rules and regulations will ultimately be applied, Audubon is working with many states who are developing their own policies that determine what water bodies are protected. We’re focused on highlighting the critical importance of resources like ephemeral and short hydro-period wetlands for birds.
Working with the Biden Administration and Congress, Audubon is building upon these results and responding to ongoing challenges by setting our sights on even higher goals. Renewed focus on combatting the impacts of climate change and the use of natural infrastructure will provide new opportunities for progress. Ensuring these policies promote equity, diversity, and inclusion is a strategic imperative. In every water policy position, we are looking for opportunities to support communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities that have been, or could be, disproportionately affected by policy decisions.
Here are some of the key water policy priorities Audubon is working to advance in 2021:
- Rising to meet the need and urgency of Everglades restoration by requesting $725 million for construction of restoration projects, a goal recently echoed by all 29 members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation who requested full funding for the Everglades in the coming year.
- Establishing a Congressional Caucus dedicated to issues surrounding the Delaware River Watershed, which provides drinking water for over 13 million people.
- Ensuring the implementation of the Water Resources Development Act (2020) properly invests in building climate resilience in frontline communities.
- Creating a program to assess the conservation needs of the Saline Lakes in the Great Basin states, marking the first Congressional recognition of this interconnected network of lakes as a single ecosystem.
- Increasing resources for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and ensuring a continued focus on marsh birds.
- Enabling natural infrastructure options for addressing drought in the Colorado River basin.
We now know that we’ve lost nearly three billion birds in North America over the past 50 years and two-thirds of our bird species are threatened by climate change. Natural disasters and extreme weather caused by climate change are growing more frequent - drought is more common in the West, while heavy rain events and flooding are increasing in the East. As we look ahead to advancing our water policy goals in 2021, Audubon will focus on the most important places for birds while helping to support families and communities, and combat the effects of climate change.