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Building Drought Resilience in Montana

The Administration's National Drought Resilience Partnership and Governor Bullock of Montana are working together to build drought resilience in the Upper Missouri River Basin.

Earlier this week, President Obama announced a series of new steps the Administration is taking to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. Increasing preparedness and resilience throughout the country to impacts like extreme weather, flooding, and more severe drought is a major component of the President’s Climate Action Plan. And to do so, the President is committed to working closely with governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other decision-makers who are seeing the impacts of climate change on their communities firsthand.

Right now, with much of the western part of the country facing severe drought conditions, we’re reminded why it’s so important to build the nation’s resilience to drought. While no specific drought can be attributed solely to climate change, we do know that certain climatic factors can influence droughts, making them more frequent and severe. That’s why, through the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a partnership of seven agencies, the Administration is making it easier for states, cities, and individuals to access Federal drought resources by linking information such as monitoring, forecasts, outlooks and early warnings with longer-term drought resilience strategies in critical sectors such as agriculture, municipal water systems, energy, recreation, tourism and manufacturing. 

On Wednesday, at the beautiful Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River just outside of Helena, Montana, the NDRP joined Montana Governor Steve Bullock in announcing a new climate resilience demonstration project in the Upper Missouri River Basin. Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, joined Governor Bullock at the event, noting that the demonstration project  “will build on and complement, not replace, existing drought planning and preparedness efforts in the Upper Missouri River Basin. There is already a strong foundation of Federal and state partnerships and the NDRP demonstration project will harness and coordinate existing efforts by Federal agencies and tailor the response to the unique needs of Montana watersheds.”

The initiative is focused on how improved drought preparedness at the local, state and tribal levels can be achieved through enhanced coordination of Federal agency resources. The idea is to demonstrate how drought resilience can be improved when Federal agencies go “all-in” to help with coordinating and focusing resources on specific watershed basins.  And, with the Upper Missouri River Basin currently not facing drought conditions, the project will allow for the tough conversations among state, local, tribal and Federal partners to happen without a crisis looming.

Governor Bullock has already shown commendable leadership on drought preparedness, and has been essential in bringing this multi-agency collaborative model to his state. The content and scope of NDRP-Montana Upper Missouri River drought resilience demonstration is likely to evolve over time as we work closely with the Governor, tribes, local communities and watershed organizations.  These folks are on the front lines of dealing with drought and know best what they need to build a long term drought resilience strategy. Lessons learned from this local demonstration will help the NDRP develop better programmatic support for drought resilience at the national level and in other parts of the country.

All of the NDRP agencies are looking forward to learning from this important demonstration project. In the meantime, the Administration will continue to look for opportunities to support state, local, and tribal leaders as they prepare their communities for drought and other impacts of climate change.

Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.