Monitoring Early Warning and Prediction Committee

A reliable assessment of water availability and its outlook for the near and long term is valuable information in both dry and wet periods. During drought, the value of this information increases markedly. The monitoring committee should include representatives from agencies with responsibilities for monitoring climate and water supply. Data and information on each of the applicable indicators (e.g., precipitation, temperature, evapotranspiration, seasonal climate forecasts, soil

Figure 3 Drought task force organizational structure. (Source: National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.)

moisture, streamflow, groundwater levels, reservoir and lake levels, and snowpack) ought to be considered in the committee's evaluation of the water situation and outlook. The agencies responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data and information will vary considerably from country to country and province to province.

The monitoring committee should meet regularly, especially in advance of the peak demand season. Following each meeting, reports should be prepared and disseminated to the drought task force, relevant government agencies, and the media. The chairperson of the monitoring committee should be a permanent member of the drought task force. If conditions warrant, the task force should brief the governor or appropriate government official about the contents of the report, including any recommendations for specific actions. The public must receive a balanced interpretation of changing conditions. The monitoring committee should work closely with public information specialists to keep the public well-informed.

The primary objectives of the monitoring committee are to

1. Adopt a workable definition of drought that could be used to phase in and phase out levels of local state or provincial, and federal actions in response to drought. The group may need to adopt more than one definition of drought in identifying impacts in various economic, social, and environmental sectors because no single definition of drought applies in all cases. Several indices are available (Hayes, 1998), including the Standardized Precipitation Index (McKee et al., 1993, 1995), which is gaining widespread acceptance (Guttman, 1998; Hayes et al., 1999; also see http://drought. unl.edul whatis/Indices.pdf. The trend is to rely on multiple drought indices to trigger mitigation and response actions, which are calibrated to various intensities of drought. The current thought is that no single index of drought is adequate to measure the complex interrelationships between the various components of the hydrological cycle and impacts.

It is helpful to establish a sequence of descriptive terms for water supply alert levels, such as "advisory," "alert," "emergency," and "rationing" (as opposed to more generic terms such as "phase 1" and "phase 2," or sensational terms such as "disaster"). Review the terminology used by other entities (i.e., local utilities, provinces, river basin authorities) and choose terms that are consistent so as not to confuse the public with different terms in areas where there may be authorities with overlapping regional responsibilities. These alert levels should be defined in discussions with both the risk assessment committee and the task force.

In considering emergency measures such as rationing, remember that the impacts of drought may vary significantly from one area to the next, depending on the sources and uses of water and the degree of planning previously implemented. For example, some cities may have recently expanded their water supply capacity while other adjacent communities may have an inadequate water supply capacity during periods of drought. Imposing general emergency measures on people or communities without regard for their existing vulnerability may result in political repercussions and loss of credibility.

A related consideration is that some municipal water systems may be out of date or in poor operating condition, so that even moderate drought strains a community's ability to supply customers with water. Identifying inadequate (i.e., vulnerable) water supply systems and upgrading those systems should be part of a long-term drought mitigation program.

2. Establish drought management areas; that is, subdivide the province or region into more conveniently sized districts by political boundaries, shared hydro-logical characteristics, climatological characteristics, or other means such as drought probability or risk. These subdivisions may be useful in drought management because they may allow drought stages and mitigation and response options to be regionalized.

3. Develop a drought monitoring system. The quality of meteorological and hydrological networks is highly variable from country to country and region to region within countries. Responsibility for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data is divided between many government authorities. The monitoring committee's challenge is to coordinate and integrate the analysis so decision makers and the public receive early warning of emerging drought conditions. Considerable experience has developed in recent years with automated weather data networks that provide rapid access to climate data. These networks can be invaluable in monitoring emerging and ongoing drought conditions. Investigate the experiences of regions with comprehensive automated meteorological and hydrological networks and apply their lessons learned, where appropriate.

4. Inventory data quantity and quality from current observation networks. Many networks monitor key elements of the hydrologic system. Most of these networks are operated by federal or provincial agencies, but other networks also exist and may provide critical information for a portion of a province or region. Meteorological data are important but represent only one part of a comprehensive monitoring system. These other physical indicators (soil moisture, streamflow, reservoir and groundwater levels) must be monitored to reflect impacts of drought on agriculture, households, industry, energy production, transportation, recreation and tourism, and other water users.

5. Determine the data needs of primary users. Developing new or modifying existing data collection systems is most effective when the people who will be using the data are consulted early and often. Soliciting input on expected new products or obtaining feedback on existing products is critical to ensuring that products meet the needs of primary users and, therefore, will be used in decision making. Training on how to use or apply products in routine decision making is also essential.

6. Develop or modify current data and information delivery systems. People need to be warned of drought as soon as it is detected, but often they are not. Information needs to reach people in time for them to use it in making decisions. In establishing information channels, the monitoring committee needs to consider when people need what kinds of information. These decision points can determine whether the information provided is used or ignored.

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