March 23, 2016

White House Introduces Plan to Wash Away Drought

In association with a White House Water Summit on World Water Day, March 22, President Obama released an executive memorandum outlining a federal plan to support state and local efforts to combat drought. The memorandum established six drought-resilience goals, including information sharing and communication, assisting localities with planning and building for drought preparedness and resilience, supporting market-based approaches for infrastructure and efficiency, and supporting innovative water use, efficiency and technology. To reach these goals, the memorandum institutionalizes the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), which was originally outlined in the 2014 Climate Action Plan.

While California and the West have been the hardest hit by drought in recent years, according to the White House serious drought issues can affect nearly every region of the country. In 2012, drought covered more than 65 percent of the United States.

The NDRP will be led by the Department of Agriculture, and members include the departments of Commerce, Interior, Energy and Defense, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Office of Science and Technology Policy. The NDRP is required to provide a report describing the activities undertaken and progress made implementing the memorandum’s goals within 150 days. The plan envisions a collaborative approach, building on the established role of state, local and tribal entities in water policy.

Actions to be taken by December 31, 2016, by the NRDP member agencies, subject to appropriations, include:

  • Improving drought data-integration
  • Providing technical and scientific information to state and local officials concerning integration of drought planning and ensuring that officials are aware of this information and initiatives
  • Assessing drought risk to critical infrastructure and communicating those risks
  • Coordinating and using existing federal programs to support drought resilience
  • Supporting market-based approaches for infrastructure and efficiency, including testing innovative financing opportunities for rural water infrastructure
  • Facilitating the development of new technologies and promoting expanded use of technologies supporting water reuse

Questions about how a federal water policy would work in practice have been ongoing, as water policies generally arise on a state or local level. The memorandum acknowledges this by focusing on collaboration between federal and state/local agencies.

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