U.S. Drought Portal




New Planning and Drought guide from the American Planning Association 

The new publication “Planning and Drought” offers a comprehensive guide for citizens, planners and communities to explore what drought is, how to track it, its impacts, and how planners and communities can prepare to mitigate its effects. The volume includes eight case studies illustrating the range of drought’s consequences and how different organizations prepared for and responded to them.

NIDIS and the National Drought Mitigation Center joined the American Planning Association to create the new guidebook, published in January 2014.

Find a free download here or purchase a hard copy here.

Planning Advisory Service Report No. 574, Planning and Drought, is provided in electronic form as a free download by the American Planning Association for the benefit of the public. The report was edited by James C. Schwab, AICP, Manager of APA’s Hazards Planning Research Center, which led the project to produce the report, with contributions from the following authors:

Jeff Brislawn

Marilyn Hall, AICP

Cody Knutson

Marsha Prillwitz

Kelly Redmond

James C. Schwab

Mark Svoboda

Information on all the authors can be found on the inside front cover of the report.

The Hazards Planning Research Center is part of APA’s National Centers for Planning, which include the Green Communities and Planning and Community Health Research Centers.

People Can Prepare for Drought


People can take steps ahead of time to reduce the effects of drought, just as they would for other natural disasters. Planning ahead gives decision-makers, resource managers and citizens the chance to relieve the most suffering at the least expense. Reacting to drought in 'crisis mode' is often expensive and not well-targeted.

The National Drought Mitigation Center offers more information about planning ahead in Why Plan for Drought.  NDMC also maintains a Drought Management Database, a growing collection of information about what has been tried in responding to and preparing for drought in the U.S.   

Drought Planning Saves Money and Reduces Suffering

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated in 1995 that the nation's annual average drought loss was $6 to $8 billion. FEMA and other disaster management organizations have also estimated that for every $1 spent on reducing vulnerability to disaster -- 'mitigation' -- $4 is saved. This finding was recently reiterated in a 2005 study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council.


Drought Planning Examples

Denver Water - Colorado
Denver Water is an example of an organization that conducts thorough, open drought planning. It actively keeps customers informed of drought and water supply issues, and what steps customers may need to take to reduce use. Its Drought Response Plan is considered state-of-the-art.

Alexander Ranch - Kansas
Ted Alexander operates his ranch in Kansas as an exercise in environm ental and fiscal stewardship, and has strategies to limit the negative effects of drought. He was a regional winner of the 2007 Environmental Stewardship Award Program, a program of the National Cattleman's Beef Association.

Drought Planning Processes

How to Plan for Drought

There are several well-documented drought-planning processes that can help municipalities, states, tribes, governments and individuals develop a drought plan. This list includes general resources followed by more sector-specific information.

An effective drought plan requires:

  1. Monitoring drought, water supplies, and impacts
  2. Understanding how to reduce vulnerability and impacts
  3. Authority and resources to develop and implement a plan

The 10-Step Drought-Planning Process . Dr. Donald A. Wilhite, founder of the National Drought Mitigation Center, developed a 10-step planning process that has been adapted for use by cities, tribes, states, and countries around the world, and that has benefited from continuous refinement. It is available from the National Drought Mitigation Center's web site (reprinted from D.A. Wilhite, ed. Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology, and Management Issues , CRC Press, 2005, pp. 93-135, courtesy of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC) as a 44-page pdf document

How to Reduce Drought Risk. The Western Drought Coordination Council produced How to Reduce Drought Risk in 1998 in collaboration with the National Drought Mitigation Center as a guide for assessing vulnerability to drought. It is a step-by-step process for users to identify actions that can be taken to reduce potential drought-related impacts.

The National Study of Water Management During Drought. This study was authorized by Congress and undertaken by the Corps of Engineers' Institute for Water Resources in the aftermath of the droughts of 1988. The resulting report, Managing Water for Drought , presents a method for developing drought preparedness plans which takes advantage of federal background and expertise while maintaining the flexibility needed for local, nonfederal decision making.

A Guidebook to Drought Planning, Management and Water Level Changes in the Great Lakes . Great Lakes Commission. 1990, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (This publication can be ordered from the Great Lakes Commission.) This reference guide on drought and its impacts answers questions about water level changes and lists federal, state, and provincial contacts for drought assistance, water levels, and emergency response programs.

Climate Science and Drought Planning: the Arizona Experience, a paper by Katharine L. Jacobs, Gregg M. Garfin, and Barbara J. Morehouse, from the Journal of American Water Resources Association , April, 2005.

The National Drought Mitigation Center's website has a collection of on-line resources to help people develop drought plans.

Drought Policy Initiatives


Many of the land- and water-use decisions that affect vulnerability to drought happen at the local level. However, state and federal governments can provide resources and incentives that lead to more proactive drought planning.

The National Drought Policy Commission issued its final report in 2000. The Commission was composed of 15 members, representing of all levels of government and other drought-affected groups, and was charged by Congress to provide advice and recommendations on the creation of a coordinated Federal policy designed to prepare for and respond to serious drought emergencies.

The Western Governors' Association is a leader in calling for integrated drought monitoring and planning. Many of its past initiatives are detailed on its Initiatives and work groups page.

In September 2006, the Geological Society of America's annual meeting focused on the nation's preparedness for drought. Based on the information gathered, the GSA presented policy recommendations to Congress in July 2007 as a fact sheet and full report, "Managing Drought: A Roadmap for Change in the United States," both on the GSA web site.

Drought Planning - Private Sector

Morrison, Jason and Peter Gleick, Freshwater Resources: Managing the Risks Facing the Private Sector, Research Paper of the Pacific Institute, Oakland, CA, August 2004.

Drought Planning - Agriculture

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a collection of information called "Defending Against Drought." The NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, was established in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) web site offers drought-related information. Searching by "drought" yields too much, but including a keyword related to a place or crop can help narrow results to more manageable size.

The USDA's National Agricultural Library has assembled many useful resources on itsDrought and Weather page.

The USDA's Agricultural Resource Service has a wealth of drought-related information and a good search utility. For more information on areas of focus, please see detail in the Research section of this site.

The National Drought Mitigation Center has a comprehensive list of Agriculture and Drought Links, including management strategies for farmers and ranchers, hay hotlines, and more.

The Water Quality, Conservation and Drought page of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service provides basic background information (both web and factsheets) on drought, water quality and quantity, soil moisture, irrigation, grazing systems, rainwater harvesting and other critical components of agro-ecosystems. It also provides a series of educational presentations on topics including an introduction to drought, heat stress, water and grazing management.

Drought Planning - Municipal

Drought Management Planning, by the American Water Works Association 
Water Conservation Committee, AWWA. 1992. Drought Management Planning. American Water Works Association, Denver, Colorado. ISBN 0-89867-627-4. (This publication can be ordered from the American Water Works Association.) This book covers the creation and implementation of a drought management plan. Special emphasis is given to public information and education strategies, and case studies are provided.

Municipal water systems typically incorporate phased responses to drought in response to pre-determined triggers. Examples include:

The City of Tucson (AZ) Water System 

Denver Water

Communities and Drought, From Smart Communities Network, a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technologies, based in Butte, Montana. Apparently not updated since 2005 but still contains an excellent collection of links.