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Home arrow Management arrow Drought and Water Crises: Integrating Science, Management, and Policy
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Monitoring, Early Warning, and Information Delivery 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. A monitoring committee should be a part of each state or provincial committee since it is important to interpret local conditions and impacts and communicate this information to the NDPC and its representative from the national meteorological service. In some instances, a monitoring committee may be set up for certain regions with similar climatic conditions and exposure to drought, rather than for each state or province. However, the makeup of this committee should include representatives from all agencies with responsibilities for monitoring climate and water supply. It is recommended that data and information on each of the applicable indicators (e.g., precipitation, temperature, evapotranspiration, seasonal climate forecasts, soil moisture, streamflow, groundwater levels, reservoir and lake levels, and snowpack) 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. Also, the data included in systematic assessments of water availability and future outlooks will need to be adjusted for each setting to include those variables of greatest importance for local drought monitoring.

The monitoring committee should meet regularly, especially in advance of the peak demand season and/or beginning of the rainy season(s). Following each meeting, reports should be prepared and disseminated to the provincial level drought task force, the NDPC, and the media. The chairperson of the monitoring committee should be a permanent member of the provincial drought task forces. In many countries, this person would be the representative from the national meteorological service. If conditions warrant, the task force leadership should brief the provincial governor or appropriate government official about the contents of the report, including any recommendations for specific actions. Public dissemination of information should be screened by a public information specialist to avoid confusing or conflicting reports on the current status of conditions.

The primary objectives of the monitoring committee are to: [1]

which are calibrated to various intensities of drought and/or impacts. The current thought is that no single index of drought is adequate to measure the complex interrelationships between the various elements of the hydrological cycle and impacts.

It is helpful to establish a sequence of descriptive terms for drought and 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). It would be helpful to review the terminology used by other entities (i.e., local utilities, irrigation districts, and 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. Consistency of terminology between state preparedness plans is essential. These alert levels should be defined in discussions with both the risk assessment committee and the provincial task force.

In considering emergency measures such as rationing, it is important to 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 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 putting in place programs to upgrade those systems should be part of a long-term drought mitigation strategy.

  • • Establish drought management areas (i.e., subdivide the province or region into more conveniently sized districts by political boundaries, shared hydrological characteristics, climatological characteristics, or other means such as drought probability or risk). These subdivisions may be useful in drought management since they may allow drought stages and mitigation and response options to be regionalized as the severity of drought changes over time.
  • • 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 (e.g., number of stations, length of record, and amount of missing data). 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 been gained 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. The experiences of regions with comprehensive automated meteorological and hydrological networks should be investigated and lessons learned should be applied, where appropriate. It is essential that automated weather networks be established and networked in order to retrieve the data in a timely manner.

• 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 national or provincial agencies, but other networks may also exist and could 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, etc.) must be monitored to reflect impacts of drought on agriculture, households, industry, energy production, transportation, recreation and tourism, and other water use sectors.

It is also imperative to establish a network of observers to gather impact information from all of the key sectors affected by drought and to create an archive of this information. Both quantitative and qualitative information is important. The value of this information is twofold. First, this information is of pronounced importance in assisting researchers and managers to identify the linkages or correlations between thresholds of various drought indices and indicators and the emergence of specific impacts. It is those correlations between indices/indicators and impacts that can be used to trigger a wide range of mitigation actions as key components of the preparedness plan, which is based on the principles of risk reduction. Second, the establishment of an archive of drought impacts will illustrate the trend in impacts over time on specific sectors. This information is critically important to policy makers who must demonstrate how those investments in mitigation measures up front are paying off in the longer term through vulnerability reduction, as measured by reduced impacts and government expenditures on drought assistance.

  • • Determine the data needs of primary users for information and decision support tools. 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 to determine their specific needs or preferences and the timing for critical decision points. Soliciting input on expected new products/decision support tools 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.
  • • Develop and/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 must 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. Knowledge of these decision points will make a difference as to whether the information provided is used or ignored.

  • [1] Adopt a workable definition of drought that could be used to phasein and phase out levels of state and national mitigation actions andemergency measures associated with drought conditions. It may benecessary to adopt more than one definition of drought in identifying impacts in various economic, social, and environmental sectors,since no single definition of drought applies in all cases. The committee will need to consider appropriate indicators(e.g., precipitation, temperature, soil moisture and streamflow) andindices as integral to the water supply assessment process. Manyindices are available, and the strengths and weaknesses of each indexshould be carefully considered (see Chapter 8). The trend is to rely onmultiple drought indices to trigger mitigation and response actions,
 
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