Petaluma, CA – As a drier than average winter forecast affects California, it is increasingly important for water decision makers to know where water is on the land.  This helps them decide how to allocate water across wetlands, wildlife refuges, and agricultural wetlands, to benefit wildlife and human communities. Point Blue Conservation Science and partners have just released the Water Tracker, an easy-to-use online system that uses satellite imagery to give federal, state, and local decision makers and planners the accurate information they need to guide water delivery.  You can find it at pointblue.org/watertracker.

The Water Tracker, updated every 16 days, displays on a map where open surface water is in the Central Valley.  Agencies and managers can quickly and easily get a picture of where the water is and isn’t, allowing them to decide the best places to add water for the millions of waterbirds that rely on the Central Valley.  This is especially useful during times of drought, when there are not enough flooded wetlands and croplands for wildlife habitat.  Informed decisions like this will help ensure migratory birds have habitat when and where they need it most.  

“The Water Tracker has the potential to replace previous and less efficient methods of tracking landscape level wetland habitat availability, which will lead to improved understanding of where to focus limited water supplies, where to invest in new conservation lands, and how to strategically manage existing refuge and conservation resources,” said Rachel Esralew, a Hydrologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With over 95% of California’s Central Valley wetlands lost to development and agriculture, multiple demands for water in the state, and a need for sufficient suitable habitat for waterbirds, the Water Tracker is timely and useful for guiding water decision making. The Water Tracker can also help answer important questions about the impact of droughts and floods on the land, and help answer wildlife and human health questions such as how West Nile Virus control efforts have affected birds. 

In a warming climate, extreme drought is forecast to become more of the norm for California, making it harder and harder to meet the many demands for water in the state. Getting current and accurate science into state and regional decision making is critical for sustaining healthy ecosystems and human communities into the future. The Water Tracker is a new tool in the toolbox for water managers and decision makers, one that helps paint a picture of water needs across California’s Central Valley. You can find it at www.pointblue.org/watertracker.