TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- Federal agencies will provide better and more
accessible information about matters such as long-term weather prospects and
soil moisture levels under a program designed to help communities prepare
for future droughts and respond more effectively when they happen, Obama
administration officials said Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration will lead the initiative, which grew out of a series of
regional forums held in response to the 2012 drought, the most severe and
widespread in more than 70 years. It covered more than two-thirds of the
continental U.S. and caused more than $30 billion in losses from crop
failures, wildfires and other ripple effects.
"We were very aggressive in responding to the drought but all of it was
after the fact,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview with
The Associated Press. “We made money available for technical assistance
after the fact. We provided disaster loan assistance and extended grazing
aid after the fact. We purchased surplus product after the fact.”
With droughts likely to become more frequent and widespread as the climate
warms, “we have to adjust to this new normal and we have to understand what
it means to be proactive instead of just reacting,” he said.
Vilsack was announcing Friday the creation of the National Drought
Resilience Partnership, which also will involve the Department of Interior,
the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army
Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The
goal is to help communities and individual farmers, ranchers and others
whose livelihoods are particularly vulnerable during low-water periods to be
ready and cope.
“We want to harness the federal government’s best tools and science and get
that information out there ... so we can say to people earlier, ‘Hey,
drought is on the way. Let’s discuss options where we can help,’” said Jason
Weller, chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
In 2014, the partnership will focus on developing a one-stop website where
people will be able to find information scattered across the vastness of the
bureaucracy -- often “bits and pieces in some nook and cranny” of a database
that many people don’t know exists, said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s acting
The government has a website,
which provides links to some material on drought conditions, weather
outlooks and available resources. The new site will be more extensive --
with information on a wide variety of topics, from best-management practices
for farmers to the latest scientific findings on a plant’s water cycle, and
user-friendly ways of determining what data is needed and how to find it,
Also next year, each agency in the partnership will designate one official
as the go-to person whom state and local officials can contact for
information and assistance during droughts.
The partnership also will select one place in the West that has been hit
hard by drought for a test case in developing a locally tailored “drought
resistance plan” that could serve as a model for other communities, Vilsack
Another 2014 project will be upgrading the network that monitors soil
moisture content, a crucial drought forecasting tool. The Natural Resources
Conservation Service will improve its information collection techniques to
better help farmers decide which crops to plant or determine how to graze
livestock based on local conditions, Vilsack said.
“If you’re a manager of an irrigation district or a municipal water system,
you’re going to get more timely and accurate forecasts as to what future
water availability will be so you can manage your overall water supply,”
Soil moisture is difficult to measure over wide areas, requiring numerous
sensors and measurements, Sullivan said. Experiments are underway with
satellite technology that could improve the system.