Summary of Hearings on Drought Hazards (5-3-06)

  • April 27, 2006: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology, Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction, Hearing on Drought

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology
Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction
Hearing on Drought
April 27, 2006

Witnesses:
The Honorable Jim Geringer, former Governor of Wyoming, representative of Alliance for Earth Observation
Dr. Donald A. Wilhite, Director, National Drought Mitigation Center
Chet Koblinsky, Director of the Climate Program Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Drought hazards and mitigation efforts were the topic of an April 27 hearing before the Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology. "Drought really is a disaster, as much as a hurricane or a tornado," said Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), the subcommittee's ranking member. Subcommittee Chair Jim DeMint (R-SC) noted that the economic consequences of droughts can total up to $8 billion in one year.

Witness testimony focused on the need to shift government spending from drought response to drought mitigation and planning. Experts from government, academia, and the non-profit sector offered unqualified support for the creation of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a new program that would improve drought monitoring, forecasting, research, and information dissemination. The President's fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request includes $4 million for the creation of NIDIS, and legislation on the program has been introduced in the House by Representatives Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Mark Udall (D-CO). Nelson told witnesses he would soon be introducing NIDIS legislation in the Senate with Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM).

Witnesses also emphasized that successful drought mitigation must address human behavior in addition to scientific monitoring and prediction. Jim Geringer, former Governor of Wyoming and a representative of the Alliance for Earth Observation, told senators that droughts are not just an issue of water supply but also of sociology, including where people choose to build houses and how they use water. Dr. Donald Wilhite, Director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska added, "We need to be looking at conservation."

Nelson asked witnesses whether improving prediction capabilities as called for in NIDIS could decrease the costs associated with droughts. "That's really the thrust of what we're trying to do here," Wilhite responded, adding that for every dollar spent on drought mitigation, four dollars are saved on response and recovery.

Nelson also questioned a comment in Geringer's written testimony that NIDIS should not be housed under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but rather should exist as a separate agency under the Department of Commerce. Geringer explained that drought prediction, mitigation, and response span a number of disparate federal agencies that will need to be drawn together for the system to function effectively. In response, Chet Koblinsky, Director of NOAA's Climate Program Office told senators, "We accept the challenge." He added that NOAA is the ideal place to house NIDIS because of the agency's extensive experience in earth observation and research.

For a video of the hearing and the full text of witness testimony, click here.

-JAF

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.

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Last updated on May 3, 2006.