Federal Teams To Coordinate Drought Relief Assistance to Western States

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns have activated Interagency Drought Action Teams to coordinate drought relief to communities in Western states that face the greatest potential water shortages this summer.

"Much of the Pacific Northwest has been hard hit by drought this year," Norton said in a July 12 announcement. "Despite recent spring rains, some areas in the region will experience severe water shortages later this summer. These drought action teams will bring focus to federal drought programs in communities hit by those shortages."

Although the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture have different approaches and tools for addressing drought conditions, the teams of USDA and DOI specialists based in the affected areas are working in conjunction with state governments to address drought conditions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and other states as needs are identified, officials said.

"In our ongoing efforts to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities impacted by drought, we are working with states and local communities to take action where the greatest needs exist," Johanns said. "By focusing on this issue early, we will be able to better target our drought-relief assistance to farmers and ranchers in these states in the critical months ahead."

Both departments offer a range of assistance programs. USDA programs that provide relief assistance include the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Crop Insurance through the Risk Management Agency (RMA), and the protection of rangeland forage from grasshopper outbreaks through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). When approved, producers in individual counties may be eligible for Emergency Loans and the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) administered by FSA.

In addition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance to help producers plan and manage natural resources on private lands and administers the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to assist land managers with efficient water quantity management during drought conditions. Additionally, the NRCS Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program provides water supply information. This data is used to manage water resources throughout the United States.

Interior's Bureau of Reclamation has authority for construction of temporary measures to alleviate drought conditions and can assist with the construction of permanent wells. When drought is declared for an area, Reclamation can also undertake temporary contracts to provide water supplies and can use Reclamation facilities to store and convey drought relief water.

The Drought Action Team initiative stems from a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003 as part of Interior's Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West Program. Interior and Agriculture established an Interagency Drought Coordination Task Force, co-chaired by the deputy secretary of each department, to identify areas with severe water supply problems that need immediate focused assistance and use the teams to mobilize appropriate federal resources to help communities and producers in need.

Information on USDA relief to farmers, ranchers and local communities is available at http://disaster.usda.gov. Information on the Drought Action Teams, Memorandum of Understanding and Interior's Water 2025 proposal are available at http://www.doi.gov/water2025.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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