April 15, 2005

Smith, Wyden Announce Support for National Drought Preparedness

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden have announced the introduction of the National Drought Preparedness Act (S.802), which will finally bring a national, coordinated approach to drought preparedness and response efforts. The legislation authorizes, for the first time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to the economic and human suffering resulting from drought conditions. "Currently our ability to respond to the devastation of widespread drought is limited," said Smith. "This legislation provides the framework to monitor conditions, and plan effectively to keep family farms and the economy running in the face of catastrophic water shortages." "One of the biggest concerns I heard at the Drought Preparedness Forum in Salem last month was that there's a confusing alphabet soup of government agencies that are supposed to help folks in a drought, but they are difficult to find and access quickly," Wyden said. "In addition, these agencies have struggled with limited resources and a lack of coordinated vision to help folks through hard times in dry years. This legislation will finally bring more resources and a coordinated approach to the federal drought response." Instead of federal agencies each taking their own approach to drought, the Act will improve the federal government's ability to respond to droughts by creating a National Drought Council, a 14-member group consisting of top federal officials, governors, mayors, tribal representatives and appointees of the National Association of Counties. The Council will coordinate federal drought preparedness activities with those of the states, local governments, tribes, and counties and will also: • develop a comprehensive National Drought Policy Action Plan that outlines and integrates the roles and responsibilities of the federal agencies for drought; • make recommendations to establish common drought triggers; • coordinate and prioritize specific actions to establish a national integrated drought system to collect and integrate information on key indicators of drought; • encourage and facilitate development of drought preparedness plans; and • develop and coordinate public awareness activities. The legislation also creates a Drought Assistance Fund to be used for: • technical and financial assistance to states, tribes, local governments, watershed groups, and other entities for development and implementation of drought preparedness plans; • federal funds to be cost-shared for mitigation risks and impacts of droughts; • developing mitigation measures to address environmental, economic and human health and safety issues related to drought; • expanding technology transfer of drought and water conservation strategies and innovative water supply techniques; and • developing post-drought evaluations and recommendations.