WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have announced the creation of a Federal Drought Action Team that will work cooperatively to respond to communities facing significant drought.



With California currently facing one of its worst droughts in decades, the Drought Action Team will work with Governor Schwarzenegger's state drought response team to minimize the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the current drought.



The announcement follows last Friday's announcement by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation that, based on water forecasts, initial Water Year (WY) 2009 allocations for the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) will be significantly limited for agricultural, municipal, industrial, and environmental uses.



"The drought situation in California is dire," said Secretary Salazar. "Farms, ranches, and communities across the Central Valley are withering on the vine and in need of any help that the federal government can provide. The formation of a Federal Drought Action Team will ensure that the federal government's response to the drought is coordinated across all agencies and that we are doing all we can to provide assistance where it is needed as quickly as possible."



"President Obama has emphasized the need to have coordinated, transparent, and accountable actions throughout the federal government. With the creation of this Federal Drought Action Team, USDA and DOI will be working together to quickly deploy help to the communities that need it most," Secretary Vilsack said. "During a disaster such as extreme drought, it is essential that farmers, ranchers, and rural communities have confidence that the government will be working together to ensure they have access to every tool available."



The Federal Drought Action Team will include representatives appointed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, along with representatives from other federal agencies. A similar federal drought action team was formulated in July, 2005, to coordinate drought relief in the Pacific Northwest.



In addition, Secretary Salazar is directing the Bureau of Reclamation to work closely with State authorities to facilitate water transfers for the Drought Water Bank that is operated by the State. He also is directing Reclamation to provide operational flexibility to convey and store water to facilitate additional transfers and exchanges that can move water to critical-need areas, and to expedite any related environmental review and compliance actions. Finally, the Secretary is calling on Reclamation to explore ways in which funds recently appropriated to Reclamation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for water reuse projects, and other water projects, might be used to help stretch California's water supplies in the coming months.



Both USDA and DOI offer a range of assistance programs that help farmers, ranchers and rural communities impacted by drought. USDA programs that provide relief assistance include the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Crop Insurance through the Risk Management Agency (RMA), and the protection of rangeland forage from grasshopper outbreaks through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). When approved, producers in individual counties may be eligible for Emergency Loans and the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) administered by FSA. In addition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance to help producers plan and manage natural resources on private lands and administers the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to assist land managers with efficient water quantity management during drought conditions. The NRCS also administers Agricultural Water Enhancement Program focuses specifically on conservation of ground and surface water.



Additionally, in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, the NRCS Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program provides water supply information applicable to the affected area.



SOURCE: USDA, DOI.