Water for wildlife refuges imperiled in 2014 water bond discussions

Representatives of Audubon California today expressed concern that, as lawmakers work down several paths toward refining a water bond to put before the voters this November, water for critically important Central Valley bird habitat is increasingly at risk. Experts fear that further reductions of water for Central Valley refuges could have disastrous results for millions of migratory birds and other wildlife that rely on these habitats.

Tomorrow, a State Senate committee will consider changes to remove funding for refuge water from one of the leading bond bills coming out of the Assembly. The current leading version of the bond from the Senate side of the Capitol doesn’t include funding for refuge water. While a number of bond bills contain funding for refuge water, a good many of them don’t.

“Our fear is that as the many versions of the bond condense into a single bill, we could find ourselves making a huge mistake with regard to the refuges,” said Mike Lynes, director of Public Policy for Audubon California. “Central Valley refuges are a vital link for birds in a migratory chain that spans 10,000 miles from Alaska to South America. There has been a significant public investment in the refuge system and we have a real responsibility to maintain these ecosystems.”

The 19 Central Valley refuges are, for the most part, the last remnants of Central Valley wetland habitat, more than 95 percent of which was lost in the last century as the land was converted to agriculture. Despite these losses, the Central Valley is still an essential part of the Pacific Flyway and is a home and stop-over site for millions of ducks, shorebirds, raptors and songbirds each year.

Water going to these refuges currently represents just a tiny fraction of the water used in the Central Valley, but it’s of critical importance to migratory birds. Recognizing that the Central Valley Project of the 1930s had resulted in massive ecological damage, Congress in 1992 passed legislation to ensure that the refuges would receive enough water to meet the needs of birds and other wildlife. Both the federal and state government are tasked under this legislation for providing sufficient water to support the conservation needs of the refuges, although these water goals have rarely been entirely met.

“The truth is that there is always a drought at these refuges, even in good water years,” said Lynes. “Our fear is that if the state walks away from its legal responsibility to provide this water, we’ll see an ecological disaster in the Central Valley.”

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. 

More information is available at www.ca.audubon.org.