Planners Discuss the Barriers to Effective Drought Mitigation Planning

In late July, 30 planners, drought researchers, water management experts, and federal agency representatives gathered for a summit at the American Planning Association’s (APA) Chicago offices to discuss the role of planning in local and regional drought mitigation. The summit, jointly organized by APA’s Hazards Planning Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), is a major step in a two-year FEMA grant-funded initiative intended to study how planners and allied professionals can better understand the influence of drought on other local natural hazards, and the steps that can be taken to mitigate drought’s impacts on people and the built and natural environments.

In a series of facilitated large and small group discussions, multi-disciplinary teams of planners and drought experts, led by APA’s Shannon Burke and NDMC’s Mark Svoboda, discussed the science of drought prediction and forecasting, the barriers preventing planners from taking a more active role in planning for drought, and the types of guidance, training, and capacity-building actions that can help to overcome these barriers.

Breakout group discusses the role of planning in local and regional drought mitigation. Clockwise: Mark Svoboda (NDMC), Jim Schwab (Jim Schwab Consulting and Chair-Elect of the APA HMDR Division), Nicole LaRosa (FEMA), Troy Brundidge (APA), and Marta Blanco-Castano (Wood). Photo: Kelly Wilson.

In these discussions, participants regularly highlighted that drought’s role in contributing to and precipitating other natural hazards (such as flooding, wildfire, and landslides), calls for deeper and more impactful integration of drought mitigation and adaptation in all aspects of local land use planning. However, this requires significant outreach to both experts and drought specialists to better understand the primary gaps in education, training, and access to actionable drought data and information.

Attendees raised several thought-provoking ideas and needs during the summit, including:

  • The complex role of climate change in worsening drought, and the need for both adaptation and mitigation actions that deal with both in a coordinated way
  • The need for drought monitoring and forecasting to be packaged and made useable for planning practitioners
  • Ensuring engagement and regular communication with those in the agricultural community to discuss how they are impacted by drought, and what actions they can take to mitigate drought conditions both locally and regionally
  • The role of planners in gathering valuable and qualitative information to help build a case for drought mitigation actions like adopting ordinances to prioritize or control water use
  • Communicating the co-benefits of green infrastructure or climate adaptation actions in mitigating or adapting to drought
  • Providing targeted regional guidance to planners serving a diverse array of community types and sizes

Participants also got a sneak preview of the results of an APA and NDMC survey sent to APA members to identify their needs and obstacles at the intersection of drought mitigation and planning. With responses from all 50 states, the survey identified critical information and resource needs necessary for planners to address drought comprehensively.

Attendees of the drought summit discuss land use planning issues in a breakout group. Pictured, from left: Joe DeAngelis (APA),  Abby Hostetler (USDA), Cody Knutson (NDMC), Logan Sand (Colorado Department of Local Affairs), Ruth Rouse (Orange Water and Sewer Authority), Nancy Beller-Simms (NOAA). Photo: Kelly Wilson.

APA Hazards Planning Center Manager Shannon Burke observed that the survey was extremely useful in helping to assess the familiarity of planners with drought and drought-related impacts. “The survey found that planners need guidance to identify mitigation options, their associated costs and benefits and actionable methods for integrating drought risk into their planning efforts Shannon Burke. Planners are also interested in information about how to use monitoring and prediction data to address potential future drought conditions.”

The survey report summarizing these findings is now complete.

Findings from the summit and the survey will play a significant role in the development of both a planner’s guidebook for drought mitigation, and a series of training and education sessions. The guidebook, a major forthcoming publication jointly developed by APA and NDMC, will provide planners with the tools they need to more deeply integrate drought mitigation and adaptation into their planning efforts and daily implementation work. Similarly, the training and educational events will engage planners in the practice of drought mitigation planning and will be a significant step in bridging both technical and capacity gaps for planners nationwide.

This work will also feed into APA’s ongoing water and planning initiative and, in concert with other ongoing initiatives, will help to bolster links between planning practice, land use, and water resources management.

APA and NDMC are grateful to the many attendees and the valuable input they provided at the summit. Visit the Drought Mitigation Planning in a Multi-Hazards Context page for more information, resources, and updates.

Top image: Folsom Lake, California in November 2015 with record low water levels. Photo by Vince Mig, CC0 Public Domain.

About the Author

Joseph DeAngelis, AICP, is a research associate in APA's Hazards Planning Center.

September 10, 2018

By Joseph DeAngelis, AICP