Drought Hazards (10-12-06)
Drought, which is defined as a deficiency in precipitation that results
in a water shortage over an extended period of time, has severe economic
and environmental effects. Although droughts are most common and most
severe in the western U.S., they periodically occur in all fifty states.
Additionally, regional events can have national consequences, with
droughts affecting agriculture, transportation, energy, and forestry.
Drought response in the U.S. is estimated to cost up to $8 billion
Over the past two years, the U.S. has experienced drier than average
atmospheric conditions. According to a statement
released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
48 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced moderate to extreme
drought conditions in August of 2002. These dry conditions have led
to low municipal, industrial, commercial, and agricultural water supplies.
The administration and Congress are now considering steps to mitigate
the current problem and to prepare for future water demands.
Senate and House Approve Drought
During the last week in September, the Senate and the House
approved bills establishing a National Integrated Drought Information
System (NIDIS) in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA). The system would create an early-warning system for droughts
and improved drought mitigation and response tactics. According to
a Senate press release, President Bush has also expressed his support
for a NIDIS system.
NOAA reported that droughts cost $6 to $8 billion in estimated losses
to the U.S. economy each year. The bill's co-sponsor Senator Ben Nelson
(D-NB) said the program would take pressure off Congress to pass emergency
aid when crops fail during dry years. "We could mitigate losses
and ultimately limit the need for large drought relief packages,"
The Senate bill (S.
2751), also co-sponsored by Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), would authorize
$59 million through fiscal year 2012 for the program. The House bill
5136), co-sponsored by Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Mark Udall (D-CO)
would authorize $81 million through 2012. (10/12/06)
Drought Monitoring Legislation Moving Through House
The Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee of the House
Science Committee passed the National Integrated Drought Information
System Act of 2006 (H.R.5136)
on May 4, 2006. The bill, which was introduced in early April by Representatives
Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Mark Udall (D-CO) would authorize $94 million
over five years to establish a National Integrated Drought Information
System (NIDIS) with the goal of improving drought monitoring, prediction,
mitigation, and response. The full Science Committee is expected to
later this month.
The main component of the NIDIS legislation is the creation of a
drought early warning system that integrates scientific information
about precipitation conditions and provides assessments of the timing
and severity of droughts. Additionally, the legislation involves improving
communication about drought predictions with federal, state, local,
and tribal governments and the public to improve decision making.
NIDIS would also support federally-funded drought research. The National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would be responsible
for creating and coordinating NIDIS.
A Senate version of the legislation, S.
2751, was introduced on May 5, 2006 by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE).
"The research done upfront in monitoring drought trends will
help our capabilities to mitigate and respond to its devastating effects
in a much more effective manner," Nelson said in a press
release accompanying the legislation. "Planning for drought
and implementing a risk management type strategy will save taxpayers
billions in reduced disaster assistance in the future."
More information on H.R.5136 is available from the House
Science Committee, Representative
Ralph Hall, and Representative
Mark Udall. (5/8/06)
Senate Approves Extension of Emergency Drought Relief Act
On December 16, 2005, the Senate passed S.648,
a bill to amend the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act
of 1991. Originally introduced by Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) in March
would extend the authority for drought assistance in western states
through September 2010. The bill has been referred to the House and
is awaiting action by the Water and Power Subcommittee of the House
Committee on Resources.
For a press release on the legislation from Senator Gordon Smith,
Drought mitigation and planning has traditionally been focused at
the state rather than the federal level. As a result, drought preparation
has been fragmented across the country. In 1976, an extreme drought
developed across many western states. At the time, no state had developed
a drought response plan, and the unusually dry conditions exposed
the country's vulnerabilities to water shortages. During the 1976-1977
drought, the Western Regional Drought Action Task Force was created
to improve drought planning, mitigation, and response. However, by
1982, only New York, South Dakota, and Colorado had formal drought
plans, and by 1996 only eleven western states were prepared to deal
with drought conditions. State drought planning accelerated following
a severe drought in 1995-1996 that affected areas across the southwestern
U.S. As of January 2006, 38 states have developed formal drought plans,
two states delegate drought planning to local government, and two
states are in the process of developing a plan. Only eight states,
primarily located in the wet Southeast and Great Lakes areas of the
U.S., have no drought plans.
Action at the federal level has primarily centered on drought relief
assistance, beginning with recovery efforts during the extreme drought,
known as the Dust Bowl, of the 1930s. Four extensive droughts developed
in the Great Plains area between 1930 and 1940, causing widespread
dust storms, agricultural failure, poverty, unemployment and devastation
to the nation's economy. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated
as President in 1933, he took a number of steps to increase the federal
role in drought relief, including providing millions of dollars in
aid to farms and individuals, distributing surplus food and clothing
to those in need, and creating millions of jobs. In 1935, he formed
the Drought Relief Service (DRS) to coordinate drought relief activities,
including buying cattle and other commodities from farmers. Congress
also played a role in drought relief efforts by establishing the Soil
Conservation Service (SCS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
which taught farmers proper techniques to prevent soil erosion and
paid supplements to farmers who practiced soil conservation techniques.
Overall, historians estimate that the federal government provided
about $1 billion in 1930s dollars in drought relief and recovery.
Today, federal drought relief assistance activities are carried out
by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1992,
President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Reclamation States
Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991. The act authorized the Secretary
of the Interior to provide loans to farmers and urban areas to assist
in overcoming drought conditions. Authorization for the act expired
in September, 2005.
Sources: National Drought Mitigation Center; Western Governor's
Association; Public Broadcasting Service Online; George Bush Presidential
Library; House Science Committee website; Press Releases for Gordon
Smith, Ben Nelson, Mark Udall, and Ralph Hall.
Contributed by Jenny Fisher 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern and Rachel
Bleshman 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.
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for information to AGI Government Affairs
Last updated on October 12, 2006.