Drought Management

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Although drought is a natural hazard, the term drought management implies that human intervention can reduce vulnerability and impacts (Wilhite, 1993b). To be successful in this endeavor, many disciplines must work together in tackling the complex issues associated with detecting, responding to, and preparing for the inevitability of future events. To improve our management of drought requires that we view drought as having both a natural component and a social component. In other words, the risk associated with drought in the Great Plains or any region is a product of both its exposure to the event (i.e., probability of occurrence at various severity levels) and the vulnerability of society to the event. The natural event (i.e., meteorological drought) is a result of the occurrence of persistent large-scale disruptions in the global circulation pattern of the atmosphere. Exposure to drought varies spatially and there is little, if anything, that we can do to alter the occurrence of meteorological drought. As previously discussed, the Great Plains has historically had a very high incidence of drought. Certainly, there is no reason to believe that this incidence will diminish in the future. In fact, output from general circulation models suggest that the interiors of midlatitude continents are likely to become drier as a result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This would result not only from increasing temperatures and associated increases in evapotranspiration but also from possible changes in the amount, seasonal distribution, and effectiveness of precipitation. The result may be a net loss in soil moisture during the growing season. If these projections are correct, the incidence of drought in the Great Plains may increase.

Vulnerability, on the other hand, is determined by factors such as population, demographic characteristics, technology, policy, and social behavior. These factors change over time, and thus vulnerability is likely to increase or decrease in response to these changes. Subsequent droughts in the same region will have different effects, even if they are identical in intensity, duration, and spatial characteristics, because societal characteristics have changed.

Much has been done to lessen societal vulnerability to drought in the Great Plains. The widespread adoption of irrigation, conservation tillage practices, soil evaporation reduction, snow management, and irrigation scheduling have all proved effective in stabilizing agricultural production in a region exposed to the vagaries of weather. However, we must continue to implement new mitigation techniques and preparedness strategies in the face of drought. Recent droughts illustrate our continuing vulnerability to extended periods of water shortage. In 1988, drought affected nearly 40% of the nation and resulted in nearly $16 billion in agricultural losses (Riebsame, et al. 1991). In the Great Plains, this drought had serious impacts on spring wheat yields, reducing yields by 54% (Riebsame, et al. 1991). In 1989, winter wheat and sorghum yields were reduced substantially in parts of the central Great Plains. In 1996, drought in the Southwest and southern Great Plains states resulted in substantive agricultural losses, increased incidence of forest and range fires, municipal water supply problems, and losses in recreation and tourism. In Texas alone, the 1996 drought losses were estimated to be $6.5 billion (Boyd, 1996). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, 1995) recently estimated annual losses resulting from drought in the United States at $6 to $8 billion.

Drought planning is one of the mechanisms being employed by many states in the Great Plains and nationwide to reduce the economic losses and personal hardships



r~~i States with plans emphasizing response Jj ■ States with plans emphasizing mitigation I States developing long-term plans

1 States delegating drought planning to local authorities ET States without drought plans

Figure 4 Status of state drought plans as of January 2001.

associated with drought. The number of states in the United States with drought plans has grown from 3 in 1982 to 27 in 1997 (Fig, 4) (Wilhite, 1997a). In addition to the states that now have plans, six states (Alabama. Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Pennsylvania) are at various stages of plan development or have expressed intent to develop a plan. In the U.S. portion of the Great Plains region, all states except Kansas and Wyoming have developed plans. Alberta has also undertaken some initial steps in drought plan development.

The basic goal of state drought plans is to improve the effectiveness of state response and preparedness efforts. This is accomplished by improving monitoring and early warning, impact and vulnerability assessment, and preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation programs (Wilhite, 1997b). These plans are also directed at improving coordination and building partnerships within agencies of state government and between state, local, and federal governments. The growth in the number of states with drought plans suggests an increased concern about the potential impact of extended water shortages and an attempt to address those concerns through planning. However, more attention needs to be placed on mitigation, defined as short- and long-term actions, programs, or policies implemented in advance that reduce the degree of risk to people, property, and productive capacity (Wilhite, 1997b).

In 1997, the Western Drought Coordination Council (WDCC) was formed under the auspices of the Western Governors' Association (WGA) as a result of a memor andum of understanding between WGA and key federal agencies (Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Commerce, FEMA, and the Small Business Administration). This activity represents an important attempt to build regional partnerships between local, state, federal, and tribal governments to reduce the impacts of future drought events in the western states through greater attention to planning and mitigation. The Great Plains states are actively participating in the WDCC. These types of improved institutional arrangements, in combination with the existence of drought plans and the application of new technologies, are an important new trend in mitigating the effects of drought in the Great Plains states and elsewhere (Wilhite, 1997c).

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