| Drought website displays water-related data at your fingertips
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Drought website displays water-related data at your fingertips

A revamped website aimed at advancing climate science across the United States now includes an entire section dedicated to helping water utilities prepare for drought.   

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a program run by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recently revamped www.drought.gov, compiling crucial information about streamflow, snowpack, snow drought and precipitation outlooks to help utilities monitor and forecast water supply.

Laurna Katz“You want to know what’s going on across the region, especially with your peers,” said Laurna Kaatz (pictured right), a member of AWWA’s Climate Change and Sustainability Committee and climate program manager with Denver Water, who helped NIDIS test the website before it was published. 

“Water is all connected,” she added. “If a neighbor is dealing with a situation, it could impact you, and potentially in nonlinear ways. It’s good to be aware of what’s going on in the community.”

Map on www.drought.govThe NIDIS website allows users to look at current and historical data — going back two centuries — anywhere in the country, down to a ZIP code. Interactive maps (such as the one at left) help make sense of the data and provide users, whether they are farmers, ski resorts or water utilities, information to make informed decisions. Emerging issues, such as flash droughts, are also documented on the site.

“You can be alerted that conditions are starting to change and could be changing really quickly,” Kaatz said. “With climate warming, we’re heading into unprecedented territory very, very quickly, and having this information at your fingertips is critical.” 

For water utilities, maps with the latest streamflow overlaid on top of the drought monitor, snow-water equivalent, and precipitation outlooks are especially useful, said Adam Lang, NIDIS communication coordinator.

“We’re trying to make it easier to access this information and provide options for really drilling down to the data you need, whether you’re looking at the whole country, at the state, watershed, county or city level,” Lang said. “We’ve taken existing data and sources and put them not only on one website, but often times on one map.”

The site has compiled a list of resources, including American Water Works Association (AWWA) research, to help water utilities prepare for and respond to drought. 

Other notable information on the website includes:

  • Outlooks and Forecasts — Maps and links for precipitation, temperature, evaporative demand, drought, flash drought and soil moisture. 
  • Snow Drought — Tools for accessing snow data, including snow and river conditions, freezing levels, ice cover and more, particularly important to Western water utilities.
  • Water Supply Research and Resources — Tools to monitor hydrologic drought. 
  • National Current Conditions — A weekly narrative of how drought is affecting the nation. 

Lang said most of the maps can be shared via social media, websites, emails, and more, making it easier for anyone to access important drought information.  

“It’s a point of record that everyone can go to this one place and see it,” Lang said. “We really want this information out there so people can take it and share it.”

AWWA’s Policy Statement on Climate Change urges “water utilities to work together and collaborate with other sectors of water users on climate change analyses, evaluation of alternative scenarios, and mitigation and adaptation planning and investments.”

The Association recently released a new manual, M71 Climate Action Plans – Adaptive Management Strategies for Utilities. Other resources are available on its Climate Change resource page.