Mark Twain reportedly said that in the West, “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” And from the very beginning, waterfowl hunters in the Grasslands have had to fight to keep water flowing into their marshes. During the 1940s when dam construction on the San Joaquin River threatened their water supplies, duck clubs and other local landowners banded together to form the Grasslands Water Association. Led by the late J. Martin Winton and others, this group sued the Department of the Interior to maintain water deliveries to the Grasslands. The settlement in this case led to the creation of the Grasslands Water District, the only water district in the state with the sole purpose of providing water for wildlife habitat management.
“It’s safe to say that we would have very little wetland habitat left in California were it not for the efforts of waterfowl hunters, and this is especially true in the Grasslands,” Reid says. “Nearly two-thirds of the remaining wetlands in the Central Valley are owned and managed by private duck clubs, and many of them were acquired decades before wetland conservation programs began. By conserving vital habitat on their own property and working tirelessly with other conservationists to secure water supplies for wetlands, hunters have done more for waterfowl and other migratory birds in California than any other group.”
When water quality and supply issues once again threatened the Grasslands in the 1980s, waterfowl hunters and other conservationists lobbied for new federal legislation that would allocate more water for wetland management. Their advocacy led to the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) in 1992, which guaranteed a stable supply of clean water to support fish and wildlife populations in the Grasslands, as well as on federal refuges and state conservation areas throughout the Central Valley. The CVPIA has been a huge benefit to the Central Valley Joint Venture, a cooperative effort involving government agencies, conservation organizations, private landowners, and many other partners to restore wetland habitat in support of North American Waterfowl Management Plan objectives. At current supply levels, the CVPIA provides 72 percent of the water required to meet the joint venture’s wetland conservation goals.