83rd Annual

Monday, 10 February 2003: 10:00 AM
Moving to a New National Drought Policy Emphasizing Preparedness Rather than Response
Shaun McGrath, Western Governors' Association, Denver, CO
Although drought visits some part of the country every year, there still does not exist a permanent national policy to prepare for and respond to drought disasters. This lack of a coordinated, integrated federal drought policy causes confusion at the state and local levels and results in actions being taken mainly through special legislation and ad hoc measures rather than through a systematic and permanent process, as occurs with other natural disasters.

The Western Governors believe there is a better way to do business. They have advocated a comprehensive national policy that statutorily authorizes a lead federal agency for drought, and delineates the roles and responsibilities for coordinating and integrating federal assistance for droughts. They believe that drought preparedness planning should be encouraged and funded at all levels to anticipate future droughts. As droughts emerge, federal and state funding needs to focus on the implementation of the preparedness plans in order to mitigate the drought's impacts.

The "National Drought Preparedness Act of 2002" was introduced in the 107th Congress by Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Representatiaves Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.). This legislation is based largely on the recommendations of the National Drought Policy Commission and the governors. Some of the key provisions in the bill would accomplish the following:

Create National Policy for Drought - It would move the country away from the costly, ad-hoc, response-oriented approach to drought, and move us toward a pro-active, preparedness approach. Improving Delivery of Federal Drought Programs - To ensure improved program delivery, integration and leadership, it would establish the National Drought Council, and designate FEMA as the lead federal agency. New Tools for Drought Preparedness Planning - Building on existing water policy and watershed planning processes, it would assist states, local governments, tribes, and other entities such as watershed groups in the development and implementation of drought preparedness plans. Improved Forecasting & Monitoring - It would facilitate the development of the National Drought Monitoring Network in order to improve the characterization of current drought conditions and the forecasting of future droughts, and to provide a better basis to "trigger" federal drought assistance. Policy makers at all levels of government must have reliable data on which to base policy decisions in response to droughts, making this provision key to the success of the new national policy emphasizing preparedness.

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