Water for Wildlife Refuges: 30 Years of the CVPIA

The Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) turns 30 this year. We asked three experts – Jeanne Brantigan from The Nature Conservancy, Samantha Arthur from the National Audubon Society and Catherine Hickey from Point Blue Conservation Science – to explain what CVPIA is and why it is so important to birds.

Can you explain a bit about CVPIA’s dedication of water to wildlife sanctuaries? When did it start and why was it so important to California?

Samantha Arthur: Congress passed the law in 1992. It recognized the importance of the Central Valley’s rivers for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife – and the need to make the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife an equal goal of the Central Valley Project (CVP) close. , along with other uses including agricultural, municipal, industrial and more.

The wetlands of the Central Valley have been massively impacted by large-scale water development, including the CVP. Only 5% of our historic wetlands remain and they provide habitat for millions of waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway and hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. It’s really important that these wetlands get the water they need to support migratory birds.

Jeanne Brantigan: The decline in wildlife populations was evident by the 1970s and well documented in scientific studies. The Act recognized that the construction and operation of the CVP had a major impact on migratory and resident birds and that it was in the public interest that some water should be provided to mitigate and remedy these impacts.

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Tell us about some of the program’s achievements.

JB: Due to the severe loss of wetlands in the Central Valley, birds face drought conditions every year. A more consistent water supply has enabled wetland managers to better manage habitat over the long term and build continuous wetland productivity. It improves wetland resilience by reducing the impact of severe droughts.

SA: Without the CVPIA, the consequences of the CVP would have been much more significant. Over the past 30 years, over $1.7 billion has been invested in restoring habitats and facilities that serve fish and wildlife. These include wetland promotion infrastructure, dedicated water supplies and strategic groundwater abstraction.

The wetland conservation community has stabilized populations of waterfowl such as ducks and geese, and much of this has been due to improved water supplies and skilled wetland management. We wish to celebrate the success of the CVPIA and mark this moment as a time when we recommit ourselves to fully fulfilling its promise.

SA: Despite successes, in the 30 years since its passage there has never been a year in which all sanctuaries have received their promised allocation from the CVPIA – even in wet years. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure wild animals get their allotment.

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Over the past 50 years, we have seen a sustained decline in shorebirds that rely on the Central Valley wetlands, suggesting that more targeted, flexible spring and fall water supplies are needed to bolster these populations. Ensuring a full water supply to the Central Valley wetlands each year would allow for more optimal management.

How important is the CVPIA to the state’s bird populations?

JB: In connection with Pacific Flyway, we have agreements with other countries to support migratory birds. CVPIA ensures that living space is available to fulfill our obligations under international treaties.

CH: The wetlands of the Central Valley and some flood-irrigated agriculture (e.g. paddy fields) support biodiversity and are designated as internationally important. Some shorebird species breed in the Arctic and travel to southern South America. The Central Valley also connects flight routes within the US – birds that breed in the Prairie and Intermountain West regions migrate and winter through the Central Valley.

SA: California has a real responsibility to provide a habitat for birds, which come from many different places, so they can rest, refuel, and continue their journey.

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what gives you hope

SA: Our wetland managers – their ingenuity and dedication to providing habitats for migratory birds.

JB: They make the most of every drop of water they get every year.

CH: They have formed a strong community that meets regularly to talk about the conditions in their different sanctuaries and how they can help each other – with innovative management ideas and even just moral support in challenging times. They’re all in the same boat.

SA: I find hope in partnerships with farmers, agency partners and private land managers who manage their land to provide habitat for birds.

CH: It is also striking to see that so many more people are falling in love with birds lately. During lockdown everyone posted pictures of birds they saw outside their window. It confirms how important these species are to us.

JB: Retreats offer public access at a time when people are longing more for the outdoors. During COVID, people have learned the importance of our public spaces.

SA: These sanctuaries provide habitat for birds, and they also provide opportunities for the public to relax, gather and re-energize.

A haven for people and birds?

SA: Exactly.

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