Recently I had the privilege of participating in a Conference on Drought, Water, and Climate hosted by the Western Governors’ Association and the Western States Water Council. For two days representatives of WGA, WSWC, state government, federal agencies, universities, research groups, NGOs, industry and other stakeholders met to discuss water and drought issues.
The discussion focused on coordinating drought and climate services information among federal agencies and state, tribal, and non-governmental entities to optimize planning and response. WGA has long been a proponent of improving drought information and coordinating drought response to minimize the potentially devastating societal effects of drought. A good deal of time was spent on NIDIS, the National Integrated Drought Information System, which was authorized by Congress in 2006. NIDIS collects, vets, and integrates data from multiple sources and distills the information into a kind of drought status system for the U.S. Available through a Drought Portal
Another critical subject on the agenda was climate variability and its potential effects on water supplies. WGA has also been an advocate for a new National Climate Service to improve information gathering and assessment of climate change data. During the conference, Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration had completed a study and released its final report to NOAA and Congress that “strongly supports the creation of a NOAA Climate Service to be established as a line office in NOAA.” Administrator Lubchenco stated that NOAA and the Department of Commerce was continuing to develop a proposal to Congress to combine the agency’s world-class climate science and technical capabilities into a new Climate Service within NOAA. She also announced the appointment of six regional directors, to work with states and others to complete an inventory of information needs, assets, gaps and priorities.
One clear need was sounded consistently by participants in the conference. In a time of mounting deficits and major headline grabbing crises, funding for many basic data collection efforts, such as USGS Gauging stations, remote sensing, and other monitoring activities, are shrinking. To be effective, initiatives such as NIDIS and Climate Services must have reliable, continuous data. More funding, not less, is needed for these basic scientific functions to improve the quality and granularity of the data and to develop accurate, validated models to make the data useful for drought management and climate adaptation.