As Congress examines several major pieces of legislation to meet urgent U.S. needs, Audubon’s Western Water team is closely monitoring funds to deal with the unprecedented drought in the West. Congress should use all available options to invest in immediate and long-term solutions to mitigate current disasters and improve the climate resilience of states affected by historic droughts.
In the West, the snowpack has reached historic lows, and the major reservoirs that supply drinking water to 40 million people along the Colorado River are now less than halfway. This summer, over 93% of the western United States experienced drought conditions.
2021 has brought another year of record climatic extremes. The two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are at their lowest. The same goes for the Great Salt Lake. The Rio Grande, the Salton Sea, the Klamath River Basin, wetlands and western tributaries are also struggling. Due to the dire situation on the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation has announced that 2022 will bring unprecedented water shortages to Arizona, Nevada, and the Republic of Mexico.
The current drought crisis has accelerated climate change and climate change is the greatest threat to birds, with over 67% of bird species in the Americas threatened with extinction if we fail to meet our targets reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently, Congress is working to pass several important fundraising bills that will dramatically improve our waterways and wetlands in the West, for people and birds.
Specifically, as Congress reviews funding plans, Audubon supports the following priorities and projects that give federal agencies the resources they need most:
- US Bureau of Reclamation, Drought Control Programs and Projects:
- $ 500 million for the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan. This will address the short-term risks to Lakes Powell and Mead in the face of significant water scarcity.
- $ 300 million for the implementation of minute 323 of the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty, which includes funding for binational investments in water conservation, development and maintenance of critical habitat birds in the Colorado River Delta.
- $ 250 million to support the Salton Sea Projects Improvements Act to work with the State of California, local counties, tribal governments and nonprofits to alleviate environmental and public health crises, resulting from the decline in sea coast.
- $ 400 for WaterSMART, including $ 100 million for natural infrastructure. WaterSMART programs provide for federal cost sharing for the development of local watershed management programs; improve the distribution, efficiency and reliability of water; support multi-benefit projects; and reduce conflicts over water use in the West.
- $ 50 million for multipurpose watershed protection and restoration projects in the West.
- $ 50 million for Upper Colorado River Basin Fish Recovery Implementation Plans and Lower Colorado River Basin Endangered Species Act compliance.
- United States Geological Survey (USGS) Science and Monitoring:
- $ 200 million for USGS science and surveillance. These additional resources could support programs such as a federally coordinated assessment of conservation needs in saline (salt) lake ecosystems, championed by Audubon and the development of OpenET, a water data platform. online controlled by satellite.
- United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
- $ 150 million for the effective and efficient implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and $ 40 million for the Endangered Species Act interagency consultation. This funding will help ensure that infrastructure projects can move forward efficiently while avoiding negative environmental impacts.
- $ 162 million for the Klamath River basin and the wildlife refuge to support infrastructure. We also encourage Congress to find additional funding to support water acquisition or invest in permanent solutions that protect fish and wildlife in Klamath. This includes a permanent bird hospital and more funds for operations and maintenance.
- $ 25 million for the Lahontan Valley and Pyramid Lake Fish and Wildlife Fund to ensure long-term water availability in important habitats.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Double the amount of funding for the Farm Bill’s voluntary private land conservation programs (such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program), which provide essential financial and technical assistance to help landowners protect and maintain improve the natural spaces on their property. Funding through these programs should prioritize projects that increase bird habitat, benefit underserved farmers and ranchers, and provide carbon sequestration and increased resilience.
- Over $ 2 billion in additional funding for the US Forest Service for restoration, land management and emergency response to recent wildfires.
These funds will make drought, limited water supplies and loss of bird habitat less of a disaster. After the catastrophic wildfires and historic drought this year, we urge Congress – and in particular our delegations in the West – to ensure that federal investments increase the resilience of communities to the effects of climate change by promoting nature-based solutions to restore watersheds and ecosystems.
In addition, Congress has several bills pending with bipartisan support that address the many needs of tribal communities and the water supply needs of the Western states that we support, including access to clean drinking water and drinking water establishments.
We will keep you posted as this bill progresses. Be sure to subscribe to our Western Water Action Network for the most recent information.