|With drought gripping more than 12 percent of the Lower 48 states, President Obama today used his executive powers to expand federal efforts to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to drought.
Those conditions are affecting 39.5 million people, said Alice Hill, senior director for resilience policy on Obama’s National Security Council staff.
“Drought does pose a serious and growing threat to the security and economies for communities nationwide,” Hill told Greenwire today, noting the risk to food production, infrastructure, the quality and quantity of drinking water, and health.
On the eve of the White House Water Summit, Obama’s memorandum elevates attention to the crisis and makes official the National Drought Resilience Partnership, a major multi-agency program rolled out as part of the administration’s climate change agenda (Greenwire, Nov. 15, 2013).
Spearheaded by the Agriculture Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the partnership includes officials from 13 agencies, among them the Department of Energy, U.S. EPA and the Council on Environmental Quality.
The agencies help communities manage the impact of drought by linking information, such as forecasts and early warnings, with drought preparedness strategies in critical sectors like agriculture, municipal water systems, tourism and transportation.
In its first year, the partnership focused on drought.gov, a Web-based portal that leverages data from the National Integrated Drought Information System. It hosts soil data and area drought information, in addition to recovery resources. Hill called it a “one-stop shop” to help those who are interested.
Obama’s plan mandates that the partnership submit a progress report to the president’s climate council within 150 days. And it requires the partnership to update the White House on quarterly meetings and annually in the National Preparedness Report.
The memorandum also establishes federal policy that recognizes the prime role of state, tribal and local water users in building their resistance to drought.
“It is a challenge for us in many states, and we need to find ways to be more effective in helping communities as they plan for long-term drought,” Hill said.
With the sweep of his pen, Obama committed the federal government to coordinating federal resources and expertise to promote drought resilience and partnering with the private sector “in order to increase and diversify our Nation’s water resources through the development and deployment of new technologies and improved access to alternative water supplies.”
The plan calls for agencies to support efforts to conserve and make efficient use of water by carrying out relevant research, innovation and international engagements. The memorandum instructs the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate data collection and integration among partners.
In 2012, drought afflicted more than 65 percent of the United States and cost more than $31 billion. That drought was among the top 10 most costly weather-related actions in the last 35 years, Hill said.
“Rather than being reactionary, we are looking forward and working toward better coordination in our interaction with those we’re trying to support as they make decisions on the ground,” Hill said.