February 6, 2014

Report Helps Communities Reduce Drought Impacts

A free "Planning and Drought" webinar will be held February 12, 2014, hosted by the Engaging Preparedness Communities working group of the National Integrated Drought Information System.

CHICAGO — Imagine learning that your community is in danger of running out of water in as little as two to four months. According to the New York Times, this scenario is now confronting more than a dozen rural communities in California because of the prolonged drought. Similar to heart disease with its slow onset, the impact of a drought is not often fully realized until it is too late to take preemptive measures.

PAS Report 574 cover — Planning and DroughtPlanning and Drought, a new Planning Advisory Service report from the American Planning Association, can help communities use planning to improve their resiliency to drought and facilitate a more rapid recovery from a drought.

Edited by James C. Schwab, AICP, manager of APA's Hazards Planning Research Center, the report recommends incorporating drought mitigation efforts into a community's regular planning practices. Integration is an effective way to notify the community, bring resources together, and set systems in place prior to the onset of a drought. It can also help speed recovery time after a community experiences the effects of a drought.

The report also identifies 10 steps for communities to take to lessen the impact of a drought:

  1. Engage a diverse group of stakeholders to prevent any hindrances that could impact an effective drought mitigation program.
  2. Educate the public to empower residents to help meet water conservation goals.
  3. Create regulations for water conservation to better manage water consumption.
  4. Offer incentives for water conservation, such as retrofitting existing infrastructure with water-conserving devices.
  5. Develop a plan that specifically addresses drought.
  6. Hold training sessions on implementing the drought plan.
  7. Integrate water management approaches in a comprehensive or regional effort as watershed lines do not follow political boundaries.
  8. Share data and tools with stakeholders to make drought information more transparent and help reduce frustrations among data users or those implementing guidelines.
  9. Diversify the water supply to account for various stressors like population growth and reduced rainfall.
  10. Collect data, forecast, and monitor continuously to better anticipate water demand and short- and long-term changes.

"Droughts impact more than just water supplies, but also negatively impact the environment, economy, and public health," said Schwab. "The challenge with drought is the negative impacts magnify the longer a drought lasts. Coupled with the unpredictability of drought — the start, length and ending — it is very challenging to address this type of natural disaster when you are in the middle of it. Communities need to prepare now or they will find themselves at a severe disadvantage in the coming decades."

The report emphasizes the importance of planning for a potential drought. Communities can determine what they can do to reduce the impact of a drought — prior to, and during — to better manage the stress a drought can inflict.

"Understanding how a community uses its water in non-drought conditions is an important first step," said Schwab. "Knowledge can help with identifying a community's vulnerability, improve early awareness, and help identify phased responses if a community starts to experience a drought."

The report identifies a number of resources that track drought characteristics and provide information about droughts to enable communities to become more resilient. One resource, Drought.gov, the web portal of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tracks drought characteristics and provides communities with vital early-warning information. This week, the U.S. Senate approved re-authorization of NIDIS. The House should follow suit to ensure that a valuable federal resource will remain available to all communities. This type of information is necessary to ensure communities can plan for the future and mitigate risks. 

Eight case studies in the Planning and Drought report highlight how different locales and municipalities have worked to integrate drought mitigation efforts. Each case study highlights some of the most innovative and successful examples of water conservation and drought planning strategies used today. The case studies include: Civano, a sustainable master planned community in southeast Tucson; the Hualapai Reservation in northwestern Arizona; Athens-Clark County, Georgia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tampa Bay Water, a nonprofit special district of the state of Florida; the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Washington, D.C.; the state of Colorado; and the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia.   

The Planning and Drought report is the result of a partnership between APA and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). Funding was provided through NIDIS and the Coping with Drought initiative of NOAA's Sectoral Applications Research Program.

The printed report is available through APA's store ($60; $30 PAS subscribers).

A free online version of the report is available through the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) or the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC).

Contact

Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395; rrewers@planning.org