From flooding to drought, prioritizing water conservation can broaden the benefits offered to human and wildlife.

Common Merganser Photo: Feng Qiao/Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon’s Water strategy focuses on ensuring clean and abundant water in rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, and marshes in landscapes where this is paramount to birds’ survival. Audubon connects science, policy, and advocacy to provide measurable and scalable impact. 

In the Prairie Potholes of North and South Dakota, our work aims to protect the remaining grassland and wetland habitats which support an incredible diversity of waterfowl and other avian species. The Dakota wetlands are also vital for people, as they function as natural “sponges” to mitigate flooding, recharge groundwater, provide water and forage for livestock, and afford economic opportunities across the state for nature-based tourism, from birding to hunting. 

The conflicting nature of climate change threatens the Great Plains in opposing ways. In the West, decreases in precipitation – especially snow in the Rocky Mountains – will decrease the amount of water available to the Central Platte Valley. Less water will also mean a higher concentration of pollutants that hurt both the plants and animals. But in the North, greater rains and rainstorms increase the risk of floods, which can pull pollutants from urban areas and push them further into protected areas. The human cost of flooding is increasing every year, especially in rural communities that depend on volunteer emergency services and lack the waste-water management infrastructure of cities.

The Platte River is at a critical juncture where extreme variability in wet and dry conditions are becoming the new normal. We must remember to use a whole ecosystem lens when thinking about how our actions might impact the entire watershed and the species it supports, today and tomorrow. 

Importantly, science-based research on how climate change will impact availability of Platte River water supplies, drought and flooding risks, and habitat must be better incorporated into water management policies. These challenges will have important implications both upstream and downstream, and will require partners to reach across the political and cultural boundaries that artificially disconnect the watershed. Across the entire riverscape, Audubon’s Platte River Initiative will demonstrate how holistic, cooperative, watershed-based conservation can broaden the benefits offered to human and wildlife communities.

Audubon engages and involves the public on issues surrounding water rights and water quality; restores habitats along rivers, wetlands, and deltas; and explores and implements market-based solutions that contribute to the achievement of our water goals.

Wetlands and Sandhills Birds

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