Audubon's Colorado River Program Director Jennifer Pitt gave testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power.
The testimony encompasses the western drought and water conservation efforts, as well as its impact on birds and their habitats, reported Audubon.
Pitt has more than 20 years of experience working on water issues in the Colorado River basin, reported Audubon, a national nonprofit organization. The National Audubon Society protects birds and their habitats.
The testimony stressed the consequences of severe drought in the Colorado River basin.
According to Pitt, although these freshwater-dependent resources cover only 2% of the landscape, they support 40% of all breeding birds. The drought is impacting key freshwater-dependent habitats that need water. In 2021, the Colorado River basin snowmelt measured 90% of average, but runoff was only 30% of average. The loss of aquatic and riparian habitats has had devastating impacts on wildlife, particularly fish and birds.
According to Audubon, as rivers in the basin suffer from reduced flow and changed seasonality of flows, much of the native forest that flourished on the river’s banks has been lost.
Pitt’s testimony highlights the benefits of implementing water conservation efforts with sensitivity to the species that depend on irrigated habitats.
Some of the recommendations mentioned in the testimony include federal investment in: emergency drought response; USGS monitoring and research; reclamation’s binational program; Salton Sea restoration; Indian health service sanitation and construction support; and Reclamation Water Settlement Fund.
Other ideas included by Audubon include: WaterSMART grants; ecosystem restoration funding for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior; And reclamation funding for aging agricultural infrastructure.
The Colorado River has lost 20% of its historic flows in the past 20 years. The shrinking water supply is largely due to climate change, with increased temperatures accounting for 33% of the 21st century decline.
Pitt’s testimony also noted that the combination of drought and heat waves can push birds to their physiological limits, leading to severe dehydration. Birds may also congregate at dwindling water spots, which increases the likelihood that disease will spread.
Pitt closed the testimony by urging Congress to ensure that federal agencies receive resources to prepare now for the effects of climate change by promoting nature-based solutions for restoring watersheds and ecosystems.