Water in the Arid West

Audubon's work to protect people and birds in the West.
40M
People rely on Colorado River water
400
Bird species depend on Colorado River
99%
North American Eared Grebes depend on Saline Lakes

In the American West, water is life—for people, and for nature. Birds tell us there are essential freshwater-dependent habitats throughout the West—these include the rivers of the Colorado River Basin; Great Salt Lake, Salton Sea, and dozens of other saline lakes; the Rio Grande; as well as tributaries, wetlands, and groundwater connections to essential waterways. But climate change is intensifying droughts, jeopardizing urban and rural community viability and eroding habitat health. The West’s declining water supplies threaten to exacerbate problems created through inequitable access to water—for both the environment and tribal communities—resulting from a legal framework designed more than 100 years ago.

Audubon’s Western Water team, with dedicated staff in key western states and Washington D.C., works to align bird habitat protection and restoration with more reliable water supplies for all communities, while addressing historic injustices. These include disproportionate health impacts associated with water issues at the Salton Sea in California, desiccation of the Colorado River Delta ecosystem in Mexico, and lack of water infrastructure and access to drinking water in many tribal communities. With drought conditions persisting into a third decade and climate change increasingly affecting water supplies and habitat in the West, we see unprecedented urgency for inclusive and equitable solutions that avoid catastrophic water shortages. Audubon advocates for policies, funding, and on-the-ground actions to protect and restore healthy rivers and lakes, for every living thing that depends on them.

Audubon envisions a livable and equitable future in the West. We strive for resilient rivers, wetlands, and lakes that sustain water reliability, and can support birds and people.

Colorado River and Delta
How we're protecting the lifeblood of the American West.
Great Salt Lake
The largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere is at risk.
Saline Lakes
A critical network of feeding and breeding sites for birds traveling across the arid West.
Salton Sea
Critical for millions of migratory birds and the health of nearby residents.
Our Western Water Staff

Karyn Stockdale

Western Water Initiative Senior Director

Jennifer Pitt

Colorado River Program Director

Marcelle Shoop

Saline Lakes Program Director

Joey Kahn

Communications Director, Water Conservation

Julie Hill-Gabriel

Vice President, Water Conservation & Interim Vice President, Coastal Conservation

Western Water News

Colorado River Flowing in Its Delta Again, But Restoration Hangs in the Balance
May 21, 2024 — Revived river depends on consensus in binational and domestic negotiations for river management after 2026.
Conservation Efforts for Rio Grande and Great Salt Lake Covered in Latest Water Report
May 21, 2024 — Key water publication highlights two Audubon projects.
Protecting the Rivers of New Mexico
May 20, 2024 — New Mexico rivers named most endangered in U.S.
Great Salt Lake Levels Rising but Not Healthy Yet
May 13, 2024 — A seven-year lake level high brings relief, but not permission to slow down
Update on Arizona's Legislative Session
April 19, 2024 — Where bills stand and Audubon's budget priorities for 2024
Birds That Depend on Water in the West
American Avocet
Stilts and Avocets
American White Pelican
Pelicans
Bell's Vireo
Vireos
Eared Grebe
Grebes
Marbled Godwit
Sandpipers
Ridgway's Rail
Rails, Gallinules, Coots
Ruddy Duck
Ducks and Geese
! Priority Bird
Sandhill Crane
Cranes
! Priority Bird
Snowy Plover
Plovers
Summer Tanager
Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
! Priority Bird
Western Sandpiper
Sandpipers
White-faced Ibis
Ibises and Spoonbills
Willow Flycatcher
Tyrant Flycatchers
Wilson's Phalarope
Sandpipers
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Cuckoos, Roadrunners, Anis
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chats
Yellow Warbler
Wood Warblers