Working at the national, regional, and state levels, it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of the water in the West and lose sight of the birds, habitats, and people relying on water security now and into the future. That’s why in the fall of 2019, to support and elevate local, on-the-ground work around the basin, we launched the first round of Western Water Network Grants.
(We’re thrilled to announce another round of grants for the spring of this year. Learn more about the opportunity and apply here!)
With funding landing in their accounts during the spring of 2020, the five grantees were faced with unprecedented challenges. Despite it all, these Audubon chapters adapted and forged ahead - restoring habitat, collecting valuable data, and enhancing access at sites in the Colorado River Basin and other priority watersheds in the West.
Read on to learn about how grantees have been taking action.
- Grand Valley Audubon (Colorado): Going on five years in the making, Grand Valley Audubon remains hard at work establishing critical wetland habitat at the Audubon Nature Preserve (a 60-acre parcel adjacent to the mainstem of the Colorado River). Filled with groundwater, old gravel pits at this site have the potential to provide valuable habitat for birds like the American Avocet, but they are too deep to support the growth of wetlands and the groundwater that fills them is of poor quality. With the help of a Western Water Network Grant and other funding, Grand Valley re-contoured one large pond and a portion of a smaller pond into shallower wetlands. In addition, they installed a headgate that allows them to take water from a nearby irrigation canal and flood the newly created wetland in order to provide food and habitat for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Even more exciting, the chapter was able to leverage their Western Water grant to secure funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support phase two of this project. More to come!
- Weminuche Audubon (Colorado): The American Dipper, a bird of swiftly flowing western streams with a habit of diving into fast-moving water, is a delight to watch. Because its habitat is restricted to rivers, the Dipper is particularly sensitive to water quality. In 2015, the Gold King Mine spill raised concerns about the health of American Dippers in the Animas River, so a group of bird enthusiasts launched the American Dipper Project. In 2018, the 416 Fire burned a portion of the Animas watershed, compounding water quality issues in the river. With Western Water Grant funding and a small team of socially-distant volunteers, Weminuche Audubon was able to continue monitoring known American Dipper nest sites in 2020. In 2021, the American Dipper Project hopes to further expand their surveys in the Animas River watershed, expand to include the San Juan River, and take advantage of growing interest in the project by offering volunteer trainings. One interesting finding to date is that the impacts of wildfire on water quality appear to have had greater negative effects on American Dipper nest success than did the Gold King mine spill.
- Mesilla Valley Audubon (New Mexico): Mesilla Valley Audubon received Western Water Network Grant funding to engage a diverse cohort of young people in monitoring the avian response to riparian restoration along the Lower Rio Grande River. The chapter set to work with Audubon Southwest developing a bird survey protocol but, before they could put it into action, COVID-19 forced them to postpone the work. Their education partners had gone to virtual-only programming and the restoration work was put on hold, but Mesilla Valley Audubon still wanted to direct their awarded funding to efforts that would help connect people to their work on the Rio Grande, specifically folks who may have not had a chance to connect with the river before. To do this, they are working with New Mexico State Parks to install an ADA-compliant bird blind at Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, a local birding hotspot and frequent destination for chapter-led bird walks. We’re excitedly waiting for this new accessible blind to show up on the Birdability storymap!
- Yuma Audubon (Arizona): Also aiming to connect young and diverse audiences with western rivers, Yuma Audubon was awarded funding to support collaborative restoration efforts with the Cocopah Tribe and to engage students from Arizona Western College with Audubon’s Western Rivers Action Network. With the funding, Yuma Audubon was able to donate 200 native Cottonwood and Mesquite trees to a riparian restoration project on Cocopah land near the mainstem of the Colorado River, both strengthening the chapter’s partnership with the Cocopah Indian Tribe and benefitting birds like the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Lucy’s Warbler. Engagement with Arizona Western College has been postponed due to COVID-19, but plans are in the works for the 2021 legislative season.
- San Diego Audubon (California): Again with the goal of connecting youth to water in the west, San Diego Audubon put their Western Water Network Grant funding to work supporting their successful Sharing Our Shores program at the Salton Sea. With COVID-19 forcing students to learn from home, San Diego Audubon is developing a virtual training program for new volunteers. By taking a step back from in-person programming and investing in volunteer training, San Diego Audubon is both keeping the communities they work with safe and ensuring that the program will be able to engage students post-pandemic.
Given the success of the first round of Western Water Network Grants, we’re thrilled to announce another round of grants for the spring of this year. Learn more about the opportunity and apply here, and be on the lookout for updates on ongoing projects!