Reliable water for wildlife refuges

Sac NWR

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. © Annie Amos

California’s Central Valley may be the most ‘plumbed’ region in the country. Surface water is regularly dammed, leveed, and diverted away from its natural river channels through canals and pipelines to irrigate vast agricultural fields or to supply drinking water for cities. As the state’s population has grown, water has become more and more precious. Now there’s simply not enough to go around and birds are low on the priority list for water regulators. In years of drought, which will become increasingly common with climate change, wildlife refuges are often bone-dry in the summer and fall. Even in years of plentiful rainfall, refuges rarely receive sufficient water at appropriate times to ensure healthy wildlife populations.

Fortunately, Congress recognized that birds and other wildlife were suffering from a lack of water. The 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) mandated that 19 refuges, including private wetland complexes, within the Central Valley receive regular water allotments through the Bureau of Reclamation’s extensive water conveyance systems. Despite this law, the 19 refuges have received their full water allotments in only one year since 1992 and only rarely receive sufficient water supplies to provide for the full suite of habitat values in a healthy, functioning Flyway. In addition, increasing agricultural and urban water demand, dwindling supplies, and crumbling conveyance infrastructure suggests that these refuges may see their water supplies reduced even further in the future.

In order to protect and improve the crucial habitat found on refuges, the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership:

  • Conducts research to provide a strong, scientific basis for habitat management and water supply needs.
  • Organizes outreach and advocacy efforts to encourage state and federal elected officials and agency personnel to ensure full water supplies are delivered to the refuges.
  • Develops innovative pilot projects to improve water delivery and efficiency of use on specific refuges.
  • Promotes wildlife compatible practices and policies on neighboring agricultural lands to provide “buffers” around refuges.