White House establishes Western drought working group

Reacting to the severe drought in the Western states, the White House announced today, April 21, the formation of an Interagency Working Group to support farmers, tribes, and communities impacted by ongoing water shortages.

National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, chair of the National Climate Task Force, requested that Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland form the working group, which the White House said “will explore opportunities to improve our nation’s resilience to droughts and other severe climate impacts that are upending Americans’ lives and economic livelihoods.”

At a virtual meeting of the National Climate Task Force today, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who oversees the U.S. Weather Service, and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist briefed other cabinet officers on the severity of the drought. According to the readout, “In areas like the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, lake levels today are lower than occurred during the Dust Bowl. As has been shown in previous years, severe drought conditions can set the stage for worsening wildfire seasons, which in 2020 alone caused $16.6 billion in damages. The early, severe drought situation is just the latest manifestation of the pervasive and pernicious impacts that climate change is having on American communities.”

In a news release, USDA added, “Water allocations are at historic lows, including in areas like the Klamath River Basin and the Colorado River Basin, creating an urgent need to minimize the impacts of the drought and develop a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. The Working Group will work to identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and tribes. Development of longer-term measures to respond to climate change and build more resilient communities and protect the natural environment will also be a priority, including through President Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan and through a recommitment to strengthening the National Drought Resilience Partnership. Formed in 2013, the NDRP brings together multiple federal agencies to build long-term drought resilience, including developing innovative science-driven actions to address water supply challenges.”

“In the United States, intense droughts threaten major economic drivers in rural communities such as agriculture and recreation, disrupts food systems and water supplies, endangers public health, jeopardizes the integrity of critical infrastructure, and exacerbates wildfires and floods. With our interagency Working Group, we will collaborate with tribes, agricultural producers, landowners, and rural communities to build regional resilience to drought,” Vilsack said in a USDA news release.

“Water is a sacred resource. This Interagency Working Group will deliver a much-needed proactive approach to providing drought assistance to U.S. communities, including efforts to build long-term resiliency to water shortages,” Haaland said in the USDA release. “We are committed to using every resource available to our bureaus to ensure that tribes, irrigators and the adjoining communities receive adequate assistance and support.”


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