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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Insights: Compromise in California

Insights from DU CEO, Dale Hall
When the Lower Colorado River Authority started making drastic cutbacks in water delivery in Texas, DU board members Rogers Hoyt Jr. and Bill Ansell approached me about strengthening our advocacy for agricultural water, which is important not only to farmers but also to pintails and other wintering waterfowl. In response, DU hired Kirby Brown, a well-known professional biologist from Texas, to be our voice at the table during water-allocation discussions to ensure that farmers and waterfowl are given fair consideration. 

California is currently experiencing one of the most severe and prolonged droughts in its history. As I write this column, the Central Valley Project (CVP), operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the State Water Project (SWP), administered by the California Department of Water Resources, are operating at about one-third of their water-storage capacity. Mark Twain has been credited with saying, "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over." Unfortunately, those words still ring true today. 

In recent decades, significant debate and disagreement have accompanied decisions about how to allocate a limited amount of water for an ever-growing population in the arid Central Valley. Irrigation and water-management practices in the United States were developed out of necessity to deal with the challenges of trying to survive in or near desert climates. The three primary "users" of water identified in the CVP and SWP are agricultural, municipal, and environmental. Each of these three components of the water-delivery formula represents dynamic and challenging interests, and there are existing laws that "protect" these interests as appropriate uses of water. Over the years this has created a very delicate balance of sharing this precious resource. The one thing everybody can agree on is that there isn't enough water for everyone to have all they want except in wet years.

Part of my responsibility for much of my career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to work with or oversee western water management from the fish and wildlife perspective. In California, there are several legally recognized water rights holders, each with their own mandate to protect their interests. Few would expect them to do otherwise. However, in a year when there is so little water available to meet these legal demands, and to provide for the health and safety of human populations, it is evident that fighting will result in winners and losers, whereas sincere negotiations on how to manage this serious drought could lay the foundation for long-term solutions. Obviously, additional storage capability is important, but any additional storage can only be accomplished over the longer term. We welcome those discussions, but the drought exists now.

Too many times in California we have seen our friends in the north pitted against our friends in the south, though both provide valuable wetland and grassland habitat for waterfowl populations in addition to producing food and fiber. We at Ducks Unlimited will be doing all we can to assist in discussions that might lead to compromise solutions.

Over the next several months, I will be visiting our agricultural friends north and south of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and at the California Waterfowl Association to formulate a unified position that pushes for proper water management, considers the interests of all users, and avoids pitting one interest against another. That means no one would get all they want, but maybe—just maybe—we can find cooperation. You will be seeing more water-management articles in Ducks Unlimited magazine as we work through this crisis. California's water issue belongs to all of us, and so does the solution.

Dale Hall
Chief Executive Officer

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