Third Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research


Weathering drought: one state's experience

Bob Sandbo, Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Oklahoma City, OK; and B. Vance, G. McManus, and M. A. Shafer

Oklahoma experienced one of its most severe, prolonged droughts during 2005-2006. Yet despite its severity, new tools and partnerships among agencies, developed over the previous decade, helped the state manage the drought with few crises. Water supplies shrank, in many cases to new all-time lows, but in all but a few cases both rural and urban water supply systems were able to meet demands. In addition, state and federal agencies were more coordinated and better prepared to assist both local governments and individuals who were suffering impacts from the drought.

The key to Oklahoma's recent success with drought response resulted as much from communication among agencies as it did through improved monitoring tools. The Oklahoma Mesonet, the backbone of regular drought assessments, provided localized information that allowed the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), the state agency charged with the coordination of state drought monitoring activities, to remain one step ahead of most impacts. The Oklahoma Climatological Survey, which operates the Mesonet, coordinated the state's drought assessment with authors of the Drought Monitor to assure that a consistent picture was communicated to local and national decision-makers and the media. Within the state, information from the Mesonet, Drought Monitor, Corps of Engineers (reservoir levels), USGS (streamflow), and National Agricultural Statistics Service (crop conditions) were combined into a single document that was delivered at least bi-weekly to key decision-makers.

A major factor behind this success story was the OWRB's low-interest loan and grant programs for communities to upgrade water supply systems. Since 1984, more than $1.6 billion has been spent through the agency's Financial Assistance Program to increase system and community drought resistance. In addition, during this recent drought episode, the OWRB was able to provide emergency financial assistance to address more immediate water supply problems.

Although Oklahoma was relatively well prepared to address impacts of the 2005-2006 drought, there are areas for improvement. For example, the state requires more timely and accurate impact assessment and mitigation. Also, there is a need to synthesize climate and drought data in a more timely fashion for decision-makers. The ongoing development of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), as well as proposed creation of a state drought portal, present excellent opportunities to improve Oklahoma drought management.

The state's recent drought experience demonstrates that quality, real-time information provided to key decision-makers, coupled with long-term planning by state and municipal water districts, is critical to drought preparedness. While Oklahoma experienced weather conditions that were at times as severe as the 1930s Dust Bowl, instead the state experienced only a short-term problem that left little social and economic disruption in its wake.

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Poster Session 1, Policy and Socio-Economic Research Posters
Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 2:30 PM-4:00 PM, Exhibit Hall B

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