By Marc Kodack
The National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) recently released a report on its priority actions on long-term drought resilience. The NDRP was created in 2016 and consists of multiple federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security, and Commerce. These departments, other federal agencies, and offices “work together to leverage technical and financial federal resources, strengthen communication, and foster collaboration among its members to productively support state, tribal, and local efforts to build, protect, and sustain drought resilience capacity at regional and basin scales.” However, the climate change and drought nexus is not emphasized within NDRP’s mission, and how climate change affects drought resilience is not addressed at all in the report. That’s a striking omission, given the clear connections, and the importance of accounting for climate change when strengthening drought resilience.
The NDRP efforts are spread across the following six goals. Within each of these goals, the report provides a sampling of activities that the departments/agencies have accomplished or are planning to accomplish. An example is provided under each goal of recent activities. While “these goal areas provide a framework to systematically address how the Federal Government supports building long-term drought resilience” the lack of consideration of the pervasive influence climate change has on drought handicaps the ability of the NDRP to provide the full breadth of federal support envisioned.
- Data Collection and Integration: The U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are developing the Next Generation Water Observation System “ to provide real-time data on water quantity and quality necessary to support modern water prediction and decision systems for water emergencies and to better understand drought impacts on water availability.” Current, federal climate data and tools that can be used to examine drought are available from many sources including those described in the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
- Communicating Drought Risk to Critical Infrastructure: The Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate will disseminate the Regional Drought Primer. The Primer “synthesized information on drought hazard and potential impacts to infrastructure services across multiple sectors.” Drought is also considered in the Fourth National Climate Assessment’s chapter on the Built Environment, Urban Systems, and Cities. A subset of the built environment is critical infrastructure. For example, “in recent years in the Southwest region, California experienced exceptional drought conditions. Urban and rural areas saw forced water reallocations and mandatory water-use reductions. Utilities had to cut back on electricity production from hydropower because of insufficient surface water flows and water in surface reservoirs.” The electric grid is one of the nationally critical infrastructure sectors.
- Drought Planning and Capacity Building: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) created a Western Water Applications Office (WWAO). The “WWAO connects stakeholders with NASA scientists, technology, tools, and data, including development of custom solutions through application projects.” In the water section of the Summary Findings of The Fourth National Climate Assessment drought conditions are considered. For example, “rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack, and causing declines in surface water quality, with varying impacts across regions…Groundwater depletion is exacerbating drought risk in many parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains. Dependable and safe water supplies for U.S. Caribbean, Hawai‘i, and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Island communities are threatened by drought…” Incorporating climate change effects on drought would further enhance local planning efforts to build capacity to increase drought preparedness and resiliency.
- Coordination of Drought Activity: The Department of Energy “is leveraging its modelling capabilities forecasting the interactions between energy and water ecosystems under simulated drought conditions with forecasts from diverse end users.” TheU.S. Global Change Research Program(USGCRP), which oversees the preparation and coordination of each national climate assessment, is another forum that federal agencies have used to consider climate change effects on drought. Five of the 13 federal agencies who participate in NDRP are also members the USGCRP, including the Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce. Better information flow between representatives of the NDRP and the USGCRP would enhance NRDP’s support to local drought resilience efforts.
- Market-based Approaches for Infrastructure and Efficiency: The Department of Energy created the Water Security Grand Challenge “to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water.” Through “prizes, competitions, early-stage research and development, and other programs” DOE set goals to reach by 2030 including desalination technologies that deliveries cost competitive water and lowering freshwater use intensity for existing thermoelectric power plants.
- Innovative Water Use, Efficiency, and Technology: The Environmental Protection Agency is leading efforts to write a National Water Reuse Action Plan.
Although the NDRP and its priority actions are focused on drought resilience capacity, the long-term effects of climate change on drought are not mentioned at all. This reflects a bureaucratic dissonance given that 5 of the 13 federal agencies who participate in the U.S. Global Change Research Program and thus contribute to The Fourth National Climate Assessment are also members the NDRP; the Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce.
In the water section of the Summary Findings of The Fourth National Climate Assessment, drought is directly considered. For example, “rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack, and causing declines in surface water quality, with varying impacts across regions…Groundwater depletion is exacerbating drought risk in many parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains. Dependable and safe water supplies for U.S. Caribbean, Hawai‘i, and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Island communities are threatened by drought…”
The NDRP would enhance its mission and priority actions if it integrated the effects that climate change has and will have on drought to better assist state, tribal and local efforts to address drought resilience.