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Don't Forget the Water! 

Top, American Robins in winter. Photo by Jim Anderson. Bottom, snow pattern for Portland. Courtesy of KPTV.

Top, American Robins in winter. Photo by Jim Anderson. Bottom, snow pattern for Portland. Courtesy of KPTV.

All summer long the farmers, gardeners, anglers, water skiers, swimmers and just about every insect and other animal on this beautiful Earth are using water to stay alive and enjoy life. In winter, the robins who pig out on juniper berries and other fruit must have water to go with their veggies or they will die.

Water is the essence of life. Every time I drive by the irrigation ditches in Bend carrying water from the Deschutes to farmers in Madras, Alfalfa and other far-flung irrigation projects, I think, "This never stops; it flows on and on, 24/7..."

When my wife Sue and I are conducting our golden eagle survey, driving all over Lake, Harney, Deschutes, Jefferson, Crook and Grant Counties, we see hundreds of hay ranching operations—all dependent on water pumped from the ground. I always wonder, "How long can this go on...?"

Beyond those incredible demands for water, there are those of us who feed and provide water for the birds in our backyard. Many of the bird-feeder folk I know have very beautiful water features that provide the water for "their" birds. Others, like me, have a typical water dish with a dripper. As it turns out, most backyard birds listen for water, not look for it. The noisier your water feature is, the more birds will find and use it.

Of all the species of birds coming to water features, robins are probably the most anxious to find it. Summer or winter, they're tied to water pretty closely. But then so are the pinion jays, sparrows, goldfinches, nuthatches and hundreds of other species of birds.

Now the bad news. As most of us can see, the snow that provides our water over here on Oregon's dry side is not piled up on the high Cascades. Without that snow pack, both here—and especially out in the high desert mountains—water for humans and wildlife is going to be scarce.

Due to the settlement of a recent lawsuit, there are going to be many hundreds of acre-feet of water dedicated to keeping the Oregon spotted frog alive next summer and beyond. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be some hay farmers who will find that tough to live with if it means they don't have water to irrigate.

The current water situation is tied directly to snow in the high country. Ski resorts are going to have an even tougher time without water—especially Hoodoo up along the Santiam. Hoodoo closed down early last year for a time because of the lack of snow, but then a late spring snow piled up enough for a few days of operation.

Those snowless days, dear readers, are a big warning to us that water—in the not too distant future—is going to become a rare resource. Over the past 10 years we have seen the big battles over water erupt in the Klamath Basin, and unfortunately, that old saying, "You ain't see nothin' yet," is what we'll be in store for in the near future.

Take a look at the older weather records for the Portland area, and you'll see an all-too-noticeable trend.

Meanwhile, the Water for Wildlife Foundation has been funding the installation of water conservation projects since 1977. Its mission is to provide adequate water sources in areas lacking the resource. They have over 400 projects across the West, including rain catching guzzlers, water well developments, spring developments and riparian fencing.

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"Guzzlers" are roofed devices installed on the surface designed to catch rain, snow and ice, allowing melt water to run into storage tanks. Water is then piped to small basins and made available for wildlife and livestock. They were first used in Oregon when the sportsmen's alien Chukar were introduced as game birds to the dry country east of the Cascades.

WWF was initially focused on plains game preservation and management, but they're now invested in over 400 water projects in 11 states. Their crucial water sources sustain both wild game and non-game animals, including songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and fish.  Their charitable goals are to create awareness of increased pressure on water resources and to increase the availability of water for all wildlife in remote and arid regions of our country.

That's a great effort—but even so, please keep the water features going for your birds, albeit always with conservation in mind.

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