During the dry spells of recent years, many Alabamians became familiar with the yellow and red warning indicators of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map printed in newspapers and shown on TV weather reports. Less familiar is the key role state government plays in developing Alabama's portion of the map and in preparing the state to respond to drought conditions.
Released today, the new Alabama Drought Management Plan outlines for the first time state government's role in preparing the weekly snapshots of current drought conditions, and it specifies steps to be taken in response to potential drought conditions.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs' Office of Water Resources prepared the new drought plan with input from a number of relevant state agencies. ADECA incorporated lessons learned from the 2007 drought to better prepare the state to cope with dry periods in the future. While Alabama is experiencing normal conditions so far this year, a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that warmer temperatures and drier soil in future years will lead to droughts that are more frequent.
"Unlike other natural disasters that strike with sudden fury, droughts work slowly and silently to destroy crops, create shortages for local water systems, reduce power production, harm pulp and paper and other industries creating job losses, and degrade our waterways making them unsuitable for recreation and other activities," ADECA Director Jim Byard said. "The new plan will guide our Office of Water Resources as it constantly monitors water availability so that Alabamians can be alerted and proactive steps can be taken to lessen the impact of a drought."
During drought periods, OWR works with local water systems, farmers, reservoir operators and industries to encourage water conservation and to mitigate negative impacts like water shortages, crop failure and job loss.
Major steps specified in the drought plan include:
- Provide input from OWR, the Alabama State Climatologist, and the Monitoring and Impact Group of the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team into the development of Alabama's portion of the U.S. Drought Monitor Map. A rotating group of authors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Drought Mitigation Center produce the map. Officials use the drought map, posted each week at www.drought.gov, as a primary tool in developing federal disaster declarations.
- Maintain a drought information center available to the public on ADECA's website.
- Issue Alabama drought declaration advisories based on streamflow levels, rainfall, soil moisture and other drought-related data collected and analyzed by the Monitoring and Impact Group of the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team.
- Analyze potential drought impacts on residents, agriculture, habitat, water recreation and industries that rely on water for production.
ADECA completed the plan with input from the Alabama Water Resources Commission, the Alabama Drought Planning and Assessment Team, the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management and other groups with an interest in Alabama's water resources.