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Iowa’s new drought plan has four levels: Normal, watch, warning and emergency
Scientists and disaster recovery specialists will set drought levels twice a year
Iowa has a new drought plan — the first since the 1980s, when droughts were less frequent and less intense than what Iowa has seen in recent years because of climate change.
“The drought plan is intended to provide the state with a planned, collaborative approach to identify, respond to and recover from a drought,” Kayla Lyon, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told lawmakers earlier this month.
Iowa, Montana and Oklahoma have the worst drought vulnerability among all 50 states based on exposure and sensitivity to drought as well as their ability to adapt to it, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit group of scientists and communicators.
Iowa’s average daily temperature has increased about 1.3 degrees since 1895. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the bulk of that change is happening at night, when cloud cover traps the heat from the day close to the Earth, State Climatologist Justin Glisan told a group gathered in August at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.
“Not cooling off at night exacerbates drought conditions,” he said.
Much of Iowa faced drought in 2021, with farmers reporting corn showing signs of stress because there wasn’t enough soil moisture. Last year was better, but the state is poised to have more frequent droughts brought on by climate change, Glisan said.
That’s why the DNR, Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management convened five stakeholder meetings across the state last year to develop the drought plan.
What’s happened since
The Iowa Drought Plan, released last month, includes four drought levels: Normal, Watch, Warning and Emergency.
Iowa drought levels
Normal (blue): Routine monitoring of water supply and meteorological indicators. All conditions are generally stable and normal.
Watch (yellow): Conditions are characterized by short-term dryness that may slow growth of crops or pastures. Focus placed on voluntary reductions in demand through increased public awareness.
Warning (orange): Conditions may cause the near-term development of water shortages. Conditions may lead to large surface water levels dropping and crop/pasture losses. Local utilities may request users to voluntarily reduce water use.
Emergency (red): Conditions can be characterized by water shortages in reservoirs, streams, wells and widespread crop/pasture losses. The governor could issue emergency declarations for localized areas as conditions deteriorate. Local utilities could require users to reduce water use.
In the spring and fall, the Drought Coordinating Team, which includes Glisan; Sarah Eggert, from Homeland Security; and Tim Hall, from the DNR, will collect data from four sources:
- The Standardized Streamflow Index, which compares current streamflow against historic record for the same date to see how far away the river is from past benchmarks
- U.S. Drought Monitor maps produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln each Thursday
- The Standardized Precipitation Index, which is similar to the streamflow index, except it compares precipitation amounts over a period of time with the same time period in past years
The team will use this data to set drought levels, which could differ by region. The plan identifies five regions, characterized by varying topography, average rainfall and groundwater resources. Generally, the northeast and southeast regions have been less drought prone, the plan states.
The team hopes the drought reports will help Iowa communities and utilities prepare and provide support for potentially unpopular steps, such as water rationing, according to an email from Glisan and Hall to The Gazette.
Iowa saw more than $5 billion in crop loss insurance claims from 1989 to 2022 due to drought, the plan states.
“Multiple USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) programs that were created to aid farmers in times of drought rely on the USDM (drought monitor) classification and the length of time a given county has been in a specific drought category,” Hall and Glisan wrote. “One of the beneficial outcomes of the IDP is enhanced drought monitoring when trigger levels reach the ‘Warning’ and ‘Emergency’ categories.“
The team’s first report will be included in the DNR’s March 9 Water Summary Update.
Iowa Drought Plan (002) by Gazetteonline on Scribd
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