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," Secretary Norton said. "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.
"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," Secretary 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."
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire said, "We've had good support from the federal government on this issue - particularly in south-central Washington, where the federal Bureau of Reclamation is working with state and tribal authorities to make sure we can use our available water resources as effectively as possible.
"But this drought makes it clear we have to get ahead of the problem, so we are better prepared to deal with future droughts," Gregoire said. "That's why I support efforts to increase water storage in Washington state."
Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne said, "All levels of government must work in close coordination to confront the challenges we face as a result of this severe drought. Despite the relatively wet and mild spring, this drought is not over. We must remain vigilant so our citizens are protected as best as possible."
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 also 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 online at http://disaster.usda.gov. Information on the Drought Action Teams, Memorandum of Understanding and Interior's Water 2025 proposal are online at www.doi.gov/water2025.