The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held a hearing to examine the state of drought forecasting, monitoring, and decision-making and the role that the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) serves in drought planning. Representing the culmination of a legislative effort led by Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) in 2006, the goal of NIDIS is to improve the nation's capacity to proactively manage drought-related risks by providing those affected with the best available information and tools to assess the potential impacts of drought. Witnesses provided testimony and suggestions on draft legislation to reauthorize the program, which is housed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, over 70 percent of the United States is currently classified as abnormally dry or worse," noted Chairman Hall. "Further over half of the continental U.S. is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, and a third of the country is characterized as being in severe to extreme drought."
Chairman Hall continued, "The real question is: What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable Federal, State and local governments, and individual citizens better deal with droughts' impacts, and how to afford better forecasting and quicker reactions by governmental entities?"
The NIDIS Program developed and currently operates the U.S. Drought Portal, a website that features a range of services related to drought, including historical data on past droughts, current data from climate observations, early warnings about emerging and potential droughts, decision support services for managing droughts, and a forum for stakeholders to discuss drought-related issues.
"NIDIS aims to provide directly accessible, timely drought information to users, and as such, has enjoyed strong user support," noted Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the NIDIS program. However, in order for NIDIS to continue to be effective, Dr. Pulwarty said that a "sustained national system of credible, consistent, and authoritative observations" will be essential.
Praising the success that NIDIS has already demonstrated since it was first signed into law, Ms. Patricia Langenfelder, President of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said "[I]t provides the nation's farmers, ranchers and markets an effective drought warning system for key indicators of drought conditions and impacts."
Mr. J.D. Strong, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said, "We as a nation can ill afford to regress when dealing with what is arguably the nation's most menacing and costly natural disaster, as evidenced by the billions of dollars each year attributed to the impacts of all too common drought episodes." Mr. Strong encouraged "building on the fundamental work accomplished under NIDIS since 2006 to establish the most valuable product of this endeavor--an efficient and accurate early warning system that can save both money and lives."
Echoing the potential benefits of more timely and accurate drought information, The Honorable Gregory Ballard, Mayor of Indianapolis, said that "Improvements in drought prediction tools would have the potential to provide earlier information that could be used in water supply and demand planning and decision-making related to appropriate responses."