What is DU doing for the western drought?

As the news trickled out this week that the Sierra snow pack is at only 19% of average for early March, a near record-low, California and other western states were faced with another year of extreme drought heading into the summer season. While this poses many potential tough choices for the citizens of the state, it also brings challenges to the waterfowl that use the Pacific Flyway in the fall and winter.

• Despite a wet December (close to 150% of normal), January was the driest month on record since 1887 for California. For example, Sacramento received no precipitation in what is traditionally the wettest month of the year.

• The average Sierra Nevada snow water content is 25% of normal (as of Jan 30th). California needs 150% of average rainfall each month for the next five months to return to normal water conditions.

• Oregon’s mountain snowpack, vital for farms, is in the midst of another miserable year, posting record-low depths less than half its average in western and central portions of the state.

• Three areas in the Pacific Flyway collectively support 70% of all ducks in the Pacific Flyway; the Central Valley, the Great Salt Lake, and Southern Oregon/ Northeastern California (SONEC). As of January 2015, each of these areas is in a water crisis or facing one. Because these three regions share birds from fall migration through spring, these water shortages compound one another.

• It is estimated that nearly 40% of all the food that supports wintering ducks and geese in the Central Valley comes from managed wetlands such as public wildlife refuges, and about 60% of all food comes from flooded, harvested rice fields. Without water, rice farmers are severely restricted in their ability to provide this habitat. Likewise, wetlands will be reduced, both in size and productivity.

• The Western Region Office is actively working in each state to ensure that waterfowl is represented during this crisis. DU was a key proponent of California’s recently passed Proposition 1, which will release millions of dollars into the budgets of California agencies towards conservation. DU is working closely with these agencies to ensure wetlands habitat is a priority.

• Significant efforts are underway by Ducks Unlimited to engage in the negotiations crafting a federal drought bill. DU staff and leading volunteers have been providing policy guidance and legislative review for proposals related to water transfers, Delta exports, and refuge management.

• Ducks Unlimited, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Service, has completed a study that predicts the effects of drought on waterfowl in the Central Valley of California. The results of this study should help inform managers and policy makers about the consequences for waterfowl, and the actions that need to be taken, should the drought persist.

• DU is working throughout the West to improve infrastructure on wetland water supply and conveyance projects that augment or make more efficient use of available wetland water, and is currently involved in 230 projects throughout California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.