3B.2 Drought Response and Planning in South Carolina: Challenges and Opportunities for Building Resilience across Scales and Sectors

Monday, 8 January 2018: 2:15 PM
Room 6B (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Kirsten Lackstrom, Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, Columbia, SC; and H. Mizzell and E. Altman

Reducing vulnerability – and building resilience – to drought requires coordinated response and planning across sectors and scales, and across traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries. The successful implementation of drought plans depends on articulating those plans with many different stakeholder groups and coordinating with sectors and activities such as water management, agriculture, hazard mitigation, land use planning, and public health. However, the drought planning landscape is complex, and includes plans that span spatial (state, regional, local) and temporal scales (short-term response to long-term planning). Plans to address drought vary by purpose and scope (stand-alone drought plans, hazard mitigation, emergency operations and management, water supply management), as well as by authorizing legislation, regulations and requirements, and enforcement capacity.

South Carolina has an active statewide drought response program, yet recent droughts have revealed some of the coordination and communication challenges inherent in this complex landscape. The state has experienced several severe- to exceptional droughts over the past twenty years (1998-2003, 2007-2009, and 2010-2013). More recently, shorter-term droughts in 2015 and 2016 contributed to significant agricultural and wildfire impacts. Persistent questions about drought impacts, response, and planning have come from a wide range of groups, for example: state- and local-level agencies, the agriculture and water utility sectors, and elected officials and the general public. These questions have exposed a need to assess and enhance South Carolina’s existing drought response activities and information resources.

In January 2017, the Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments (CISA) program and South Carolina State Climatology Office (SC SCO) initiated a project with the goal of enhancing South Carolina’s Drought Response Program. CISA is one of ten NOAA-funded RISA research teams, designed to build the nation’s capacity to prepare for and adapt to climate variability and change. The SC SCO is located in South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR), the agency lead for the State’s Drought Response Program. Through the SC SCO, SC DNR monitors and evaluates drought conditions, coordinates with the statewide Drought Response Committee on planning and response activities, and provides drought information to other state agencies, local agencies and jurisdictions, and the general public. The project aims to address the specific needs and questions articulated by South Carolina drought stakeholders and contribute to broader research and practitioner efforts to more effectively integrate drought response and planning across scales and sectors.

This presentation provides results and findings from the research, decision support, and engagement activities conducted through this project to date. Activities have focused on three core questions. 1) What is the current status of drought planning and response in South Carolina and in other Southeast states? This question addresses needs to better understand the extent to which different plans and drought-related efforts are coordinated and to develop strategies to address information gaps and inconsistencies across efforts. Relevant activities have included analysis of state-level drought plans (and related documents such as state Hazard Mitigation Plans) for eight southeastern states, follow-up interviews with those state drought coordinators, and development of updated information for the drought component of South Carolina’s state Hazard Mitigation Plan. 2) How have droughts of the last twenty years affected various sectors and locales in South Carolina? This question addresses a need for a more comprehensive understanding of the types and extent of impacts experienced over the 1997-2017 period. In addition, it addresses a need to document the various ways in which different groups and sectors have adapted or improved capacity to address drought. Efforts have included collecting data regarding the direct impacts of drought on agriculture, forestry, and water resources; conducting follow-up interviews with representatives from those sectors; consolidating and reviewing research, agency reports, and other documents; and investigating the most effective ways to communicate this information to different groups and audiences. 3) What are effective mechanisms for improving the coordination of drought response and preparedness? The key activity is a drought tabletop exercise (September 2017) with representatives from the statewide Drought Response Committee, the State Emergency Response Team, and other sectors (water utilities, energy, manufacturing, emergency management). Objectives include identifying the strengths and “breaking points” of the different state and local drought response plans and improving communications between the different local, state, and federal entities responsible for drought response and planning in South Carolina. Through these various activities we will identify and highlight further opportunities for building partnerships and networks, fostering knowledge exchange, and addressing drought risk management needs across scales and sectors.

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