Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Southeast Drought and Mitigation

I've previously mentioned the National Drought Mitigation Center, located at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus. Mitigation, as they define it, is "taking actions in advance of drought to reduce its long-term risk."

In fact, Alabama has a drought mitigation plan, finalized in 2004. The abstract of the plan includes these statements:

There is no way to prevent a drought from occurring, however the effects of a drought can be reduced or even eliminated altogether. The impact of drought can be reduced by improving the overall forest health which reduces the risk of drought-caused fires, by improving and maintaining water systems which will reduce pumping failures. Also, by establishing and implementing contingency plans, such as, predetermined water conservation measures, or by designating alternative emergency water sources.
In actual practice, it's not at all clear that these mitigation actions had yet been taken, and if they had, that they were effective. Bark beetle infestations of the southern pine forests are quite the opposite of "improving overall forest health." The extended period of wildfires in Georgia and Florida through the spring and early summer point to a failure reduce that risk. Whatever water conservation measures have been taken don't seem to be "mitigating" anything.

To put the drought into graphic presentation, NDMC provides an array of maps including this one that shows drought severity according to the "Palmer Index." Note that the severe drought in the Southeast is a relatively small area compared to what is happening in the West, where the tendency toward drought is more natural.

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