Why a New Water Recycling Plant Is Good for Wildlife

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By: Meghan Hertel

AS A BLISTERING California summer comes to a close, winter rains seem long ago. But for Central Valley wetlands and wildlife, a moderate El Niño winter and a new creative water project are hopeful signs after years of brutal drought.

On August 26, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Del Puerto Water District broke ground for a water recycling project to take treated water from Modesto and Turlock across the Valley in a new pipeline, to be shared among South of Delta farmers and wildlife refuges. Eventually, the project will provide up to 48,000 acre-feet (59m cubic meters) of drought-proof supply, with one-quarter going to wetlands and the rest to farmers. This is truly a win-win project and it couldn’t come at a more critical time.

Read more here: Water Deeply, September 6, 2016

Winter Rains Boon For Thirsty, Drought-Stricken Birds

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By Joe Rosato Jr.

Funny what a little rain can do. Last summer, the Grassland Ecological Area — a sprawling wetland tucked into agricultural fields near Los Banos in California’s Central Valley — was bone dry. For the hundreds of thousands of traveling birds that stop over in the wetlands each year, it was as if someone had boarded up the last roadside Denny’s.

The numbers of Mallard ducks began to plummet by 40 percent, much to the chagrin of the area’s numerous duck hunting clubs. Most of the other 270 avian species frequenting the area followed.

Read more here: NBC Bay Area, July 14, 2016 

Dying of Thirst

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No, the Central Valley refuges aren’t getting 100% of their federal water allocations. Not remotely.

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by Meghan Hertel

Reading the news earlier this month that Central Valley wildlife refuges were going to receive 100 percent of their federal water allocations normally would have made us thrilled for the Pacific Flyway birds that depend on wetland habitat. And we weren’t surprised to see this news greeted with outrage by those who have been suffering from the drought along with the birds for the last three years.

But we weren’t thrilled because we knew that it wasn’t true. Refuges will not be getting anything close to the water they are owed this year and, in fact, have never received their full, Congressionally‐mandated and biologically‐needed water supply.

Read more here: Audublog, May 2, 2016

Rice-growing experiment will cut water use but subtract from habitat

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California’s rice farmers pride themselves on environmental stewardship, saying theirflooded fields provide habitat for millions of ducks and geese in an era when traditional marshlands have largely disappeared.

Now a giant Yolo County farm controlled by the family of Sacramento land baron Angelo K. Tsakopoulos will test whether it can grow rice with water measured in drops.

Conaway Ranch, a 17,000-acre farm in which the Tsakopoulos family acquired controlling interest in 2010, said Monday it will work with water-use experts from Israel to experiment with drip irrigation on a small portion of its rice fields. The project, aimed at reducing water usage, will start this spring on a 50- to 100-acre test plot.

Read more here: Sacramento Bee, March 21, 2016

Guest commentary: Central Valley wildlife and rice partnership is a model for federal leadership on drought

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By Dale Hall

Despite El Niño and recent rains, the majority of California remains in extreme drought according to the National Drought Monitor. For the past four years, our state has experienced major water shortages leading to parched landscapes, communities and farms without water, and dramatically low levels in reservoirs and groundwater basins.

The drought has caused lakes, rivers and wetlands to dry up, damaging habitat for waterfowl, fish and wildlife. As California faces the potential for a fifth consecutive year of drought and below average seasonal water deliveries, it is more critical than ever that our federal policy-makers take action now.

Read more here: Contra Costa Times, March 9, 2016

The disappearing wetlands in California’s Central Valley

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By: Paige Blankenbuehler

Each year, 181 species of waterfowl, shorebirds and riparian birds flock to California’s Central Valley to nest between November and March. The space they roost in is already limited: There are just 19 wetlands, comprised of National Wildlife Refuges and State Wildlife Areas, spread across little more than 270 square miles in the valley’s 22,500-square-mile expanse. But over the past five years during the state’s historic drought, those birds have returned, only to find once watery areas no longer suitable for nesting. If dry conditions persist, the little remaining space could disappear.

Read more here: High Country News, February 29, 2016

Despite Rain, Drought Continues for Waterfowl

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By: Brigid McCormack

Five million waterbirds rely on habitats along the Pacific Flyway in California that are increasingly threatened by insufficient water allocations to wildlife refuges. Even in a rainy year, these wetlands don’t have enough water

Finding habitat in California’s Central Valley wasn’t a problem for migratory ducks and geese 150 years ago. There weren’t wildlife refuges – but they didn’t need any. The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers created a vast green floodplain that hosted up to 40 million birds.

Read more here: Water Deeply, January 22nd, 2016

Drought isn?t an excuse to threaten wildlife

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BY Rachel Zwillinger

After four years of drought, California is thirsty, and concerned lawmakers want to help.

Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced plans to include a California water bill in the spending package expected to pass Congress before the year?s end. The bill is an opportunity to support smart water solutions such as wastewater recycling, stormwater capture and water-use efficiency that can help our farms, cities and ecosystems.

Other legislators, however, have tried to capitalize on the drought to grab more water for agribusinesses in the Central Valley, while undermining bedrock environmental laws. Rep. David Valadao?s Western Water and American Food Security Act is a prime example.

10 Questions with Mark Hennelly

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The ongoing drought in California means less habitat, fewer ducks and reduced hunting opportunities as a result. This could create a vicious cycle that continues to have an impact on habitat for years to come. Water Deeply discussed it with Mark Hennelly of the California Waterfowl Association

The drought has disrupted bird migration, diminished food sources and may lead to ill health when birds crowd into the limited habitat that remains viable during drought. This is particularly true for ducks, geese and other waterfowl and wading birds, which rely on vast areas of shallow standing water for food and protection.It also disrupts conservation funding, because hunting opportunities are restricted. Hunters, through the fees and taxes they pay on licenses, equipment and land access, fund a lot of the conservation activity that keeps migratory birds healthy and allows the purchase of additional habitat lands.

Read more here: Water Deeply, November 12, 2015

California drought shrinks winter digs for migratory birds

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With their red heads, 7-foot (2.13 m) wingspan and a trilling call, migrating Sandhill Cranes provide a dramatic sunset spectacle as they land by the thousands in wetlands near Sacramento each night during the fall and winter.

But the state’s ongoing drought has left the cranes, along with millions of other waterfowl that migrate from Canada and other northern climes to spend the winter in California, with fewer places to land, threatening their health as they crowd in on one another to seek shelter and food.

“They’re left with fewer and fewer places to go, which will start to have impacts on their population,” said Meghan Hertel, who works on habitat issues for the Audubon Society in California. “They can die here from starvation or disease or be weaker for their flight back north.”

Road more here: Reuters, November 7, 2015

Water for farms ? and fish and fowl

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By Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California

In an absurd twist, the villain of the California drought ? once the almond farmer ? is now the natural world, with some water districts and politicians regularly claiming that we set aside too much water for environmental purposes. Last week, the House passed and moved to the Senate a bill that would divert water from Central Valley wildlife refuges, undermine the Endangered Species Act and reverse the restoration of the San Joaquin River.

Characterizing the environment as an “interested party,” similar to agriculture ? as some officials have ? is a distortion. But if we go along with this characterization and try to say with a straight face that migratory birds are “users” and endangered fish are “stakeholders,” then it would be fair to conclude that the environment has given more than its share.

Read more here: Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2015

Birds Are Dying As Drought Ravages Avian Highways

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Suisun City, California?In years past, long-billed dowitchers flying in from Alaska could count on California stopovers to offer vast stretches of fresh melted snow teeming with plants and insects.

But now, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack has vanished and clouds offer little rain, few lush sanctuaries are available to sustain these shorebirds on their journey along the avian highway known as the Pacific flyway. Experts say that once the dowitchers arrive in the Central Valley this month, their prospects look bleak.

Along the 4,000-mile-long Pacific flyway?one of four main routes in North America for migrating birds?up to six million ducks, geese, and swans wing south every year to find warmth after raising young in the rich habitats of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. They are joined by millions of shorebirds, songbirds, and seabirds, including the ultimate endurance winner, the arctic tern.

But California’s drought has dried up its wetlands. Many insects, fish, and plants are gone. As a result, some migrating birds have died or been depleted of so much energy that they have trouble reproducing. Thousands of ducks and geese, crowded onto parched rivers and marshes, are felled by botulism and cholera, which race through their feeding grounds.

Read more here: National Geographic, July 16, 2015

Guest View: Cuts hit wildlife, ag just as hard

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By Mark Biddlecomb,Western Region Director of Ducks Unlimited, and David J. Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association

As we all know, California is in the midst of a drought of historic proportions. Snowpack levels are at the lowest levels ever recorded. Reservoir levels are significantly lower than average and the prospect of significant rain and snow is nil at this point in the year.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January 2014 and in April of this year mandated towns and cities reduce their water use by an average of 25 percent.

Much has been said about this historic mandate, the first of its kind in California history. One assertion that is routinely made, but that is quite misleading, is that agriculture and the environment were not included and therefore are untouched. While it?s true the governor?s mandate did focus on urban uses, it was not widely reported that the water supplies for agriculture and the environment had already been cut significantly throughout the state.

Read more here: The Record, July 16, 2015

Ducks, geese and rice — the next victims of California’s drought?

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The nests of hundreds of thousands of birds and the food for millions more could be imperiled this year because of fewer rice crops in California ? the latest symptom of the state?s historic drought.

Only about 375,000 acres of rice are expected to be planted this year, a 30% decrease from a typical year and the lowest in California since 1991, according to a statement from the California Rice Commission.

In summer, the rice is used as nesting for native mallards and shore birds, said Mark Biddlecomb, director for the western region of Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands conservation group.

In the fall, after the rice is harvested, the fields are flooded and the remaining grain becomes food for up to 7 million ducks and geese in the Sacramento River Valley, he said. If the crop is reduced, the feeding area becomes more concentrated, which makes the population more vulnerable to diseases.

Read more here: LA Times, June 10, 2015

Drought is killing migratory birds on Lower Klamath

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By Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California

Even though it is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the continental Unites States, the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is perhaps one of the most underappreciated and unknown natural places in the West. Relatively few Californians are aware of this state treasure and few in Congress or the Administration seem willing to step up to help it.

That?s unfortunate, because the Lower Klamath needs help. Drought has reduced water deliveries to a trickle and left the refuge parched, forcing migratory waterfowl and other birds to crowd onto what little water there is on nearby Tule Lake. This type of overcrowding often results in the fast and easy spread of disease, and already biologists are documenting the deaths of thousands of birds from avian botulism.

This kind of die-off so early in the season doesn?t bode well. We could be looking at a major catastrophe if something isn?t done soon.

Read more here: Eureka Times-Standard, December 2, 2014

Parched: California Wildlife Suffers in Drought

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As Californians look to the sky, fingers crossed for a wet winter, three brutally dry years are harming millions of animals that depend on rivers, streams and wetlands for survival.

They range from salmon and snakes, to birds that migrate from as far away as the Arctic.

For untold millions of migrating ducks and geese, California wetlands serve as a crucial rest stop along a kind of freeway known as the Pacific Flyway. Dave Shuford, senior biologist for Point Blue Conservation Science, says irrigated farmlands are also crucial.

?We?ve lost 90 percent of all the wetlands in California,? Shuford says, ?and these birds used to depend on that.?

In places like the Sacramento Valley, rice farmers would normally flood their fields after the harvest to break down leftover stalks. But this year, both farmers and birds have been forced to deal with less.

Read more here: KQED Science, November 10, 2014

Valley drought, disease, shrunken habitats await migratory birds

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Great horned owls hang out at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. Swift, silent and scary, these winged terminators hunt critters at night. And duck is on the menu.

?Imagine if you?re a duck floating next to your pal and suddenly you find yourself alone,? said Jack Sparks, a recreation planner at the refuge. ?These owls swoop down and carry off ducks.?

Don?t be fooled by the happy honking geese and dancing sandhill cranes. This may seem like a happy winter pit stop for migrating birds, but owls and other predators can quickly deal a lethal blow to a good time. It?s a risk these birds face every year as they fly south from frigid Canada and Alaska.

But this year, predators may be the least of the worries for these birds. Starvation, avian cholera and botulism may be bigger killers than usual. It?s another dark twist from California?s destructive drought.

When the birds make their annual arrival this fall and winter after flying thousands of miles from the north, they will find drought-depleted wetlands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Authorities don?t have the water to maintain about half of the wetlands.

Viewpoints: Migratory water birds, refuges need consideration in drought

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By Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California, and Mark Biddlecomb, western regional director of Ducks Unlimited

As we endure the third year of a severe drought, California is confronting serious threats to many animal species and critical habitats. And like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, California?s birds provide us with a clear warning about the need to plan wisely for drought?s impact on people, agriculture, wildlife and recreation.

Thousands of birds have died in the past few weeks as the result of a suspected avian botulism epidemic sweeping through a wildlife refuge in Northern California. A hundred birds a day are dying at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the Oregon border.

Deadly bird diseases like avian botulism and avian cholera, which do not directly threaten human health, are exacerbated during droughts. Scarce wetland habitat forces migratory water birds like ducks and shorebirds to crowd around the few existing water sources. The resulting overcrowding creates conditions in which these diseases spread.

Read more here: The Sacramento Bee, September 4, 2014

California drought could impact bird habitats, rice prices

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Rice is one of California?s top crops, but the historic drought is forcing farmers to make tough decisions in the field ? and that likely will have a ripple effect on consumers and migratory birds.


Wildlife also will pay the price. By winter, millions of migratory birds will make their way into the area, a time when the fields are flooded in order to decompose the rice straws.

?We?re going to run out of food for these ducks somewhere in mid-December,? said Mark Bittlecomb with Ducks Unlimited , a waterfowl and wetlands conservation group.

The birds get 60 percent of their food from winter-flooded fields, biologists said. This year, their habitat is down 20 percent in the Sacramento Valley.

Read more: http://www.kcra.com/news/california-drought-could-impact-bird-habitats-rice-prices/27767150#ixzz3Bi98LHWV


Read more and watch video: KCRA Sacramento, August 27, 2014

North American waterfowl are newest casualty of California?s drought

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Add another casualty to California?s prolonged and punishing drought: Wildlife officials warned this week that dry conditions in the state?s Central Valley could have a devastating effect on North American waterfowl.

The Central Valley is recognized as the most important resting and wintering ground on the Pacific Flyway, a global migratory path for millions of ducks, geese and other birds. About 5 million waterfowl spend the winter on state and federal wildlife refuge areas and flooded rice fields in the Central Valley each winter.

This year, the worst drought in a generation means those Central Valley habitats have been dramatically reduced in size. Wildlife refuges have had their state and federal water supplies cut by 25 percent. Rice acreage has been reduced by a similar amount as farmers also have endured water cutbacks.

As a result, millions of migrating birds will be crowded into less habitat, significantly increasing the odds of botulism outbreaks, which spread rapidly and can kill thousands of birds in a matter of days. The problem is not limited to rural areas but can affect waterfowl drawn to urban water bodies as well. Officials also are concerned the drought could cause food shortages.

Drought takes toll on birds, Pacific Flyway

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By Brigid McCormack, Executive Director of Audubon California

Summer is a relatively quiet time for birds in California?s Central Valley, as most of the ducks and geese are breeding in the north. But this year is more quiet than usual.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Department of Fish Wildlife, the number of breeding ducks remaining in California this season is 23 percent below the long-term average. The decline speaks to the significant degradation of habitat in the Central Valley due to lack of precipitation.

Every corner of the state is feeling the pain of the drought. It is having a devastating effect on birds, just as it is hurting communities and agriculture. As California?s severe drought is felt more keenly, the Legislature?s efforts to approve a water bond for the November ballot have become all the more imperative.

Read the rest of Brigid McCormack?s Op-Ed here: Capitol Weekly, July 15, 2014

Any water bond should have room for migratory birds

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By Brigid McCormack, Executive Director of Audubon California

As umbrellas popped open around California in recent months, you could almost feel the tension ease. Californians were becoming so desperate about the drought that they could be forgiven for allowing themselves to think things were on the upswing ? that farmers would have enough water, communities could get drinking water, vital habitat would be provided for birds and other wildlife, and that as a bonus, maybe we?d save our ski season.

Those hopes were premature. Experts tell us our snowpack is still at less than 50 percent of normal and that our lakes, rivers and reservoirs are at the lowest levels in decades. The California Department of Water Resources Drought Operations Plan indicates this is going to be a painful summer.

Read the rest of Brigid McCormack?s Op-Ed here: Modesto Bee, May 1, 2014