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Shared Vision Planning

National Drought Study

“In the last twenty years, there has been a proliferation of government reports, scholarly literature, and popular works favoring changes in water policy.  Common themes abound ...they often observe that broader planning and basin management are preferable to present approaches.  Lawyers, economists, political scientists, geographers, citizen groups, and government commissions all have reached remarkably similar conclusions.”

—David Getches (Water Resources Update, Winter 1993)

Skip to the 7 seven steps of the Drought Preparedness Method

Damaging, prolonged droughts in various parts of the country in the 1980s and 1990s were disruptive to normal living patterns.  Experience has shown that although many states and federal agencies possess drought contingency plans, these plans are not as effective as they should be; droughts still cause substantial turmoil. 

In response to the droughts of 1988, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to make a nationwide survey with the goal of finding a better way to manage water during drought.  The resulting effort was titled the National Study of Water Management During Drought (referred to simply as the National Drought Study, 1988-1994). 

Recognizing that the key to better water management during drought is to improve current water resources planning and management practices, the principles and practice of water management were revisited as part of the National Drought Study to develop an innovative, integrated and collaborative approach to drought management. 

The most visible innovation of the National Drought Study was the use of stakeholders’ collaboratively built “shared vision (computer) models” of their water management environments. Significantly, this collaborative approach using “shared vision” computer simulation models has been integrated into a uniform, consistent approach that has been tested and shown to work.  This approach is termed the DPS method, after the cooperative field studies conducted during the National Drought Study called “Drought Preparedness Studies.” 

The Drought Preparedness Studies (DPS) planning approach is based on the principles of multi-objective water management derived from the Harvard Water Program of the late 1950s and early 1960s, modified and implemented in federal water studies, and codified in “Principles and Guidelines” (P&G) for federal water planning.  The DPS method operates under the idea that it is better to prepare for droughts before they occur with the input of various stakeholders and interest groups rather than wait until a drought is occurring and leave the decisions up to a few select people.  The DPS method is what is now referred to as "Shared Vision Planning."

There are three main products associated with the National Drought Study: the reports Managing Water for Drought (pdf, 1.57 MB) and Report to Congress (pdf, 1.20 MB) , and the web-based National Drought AtlasManaging Water For Drought is a practical manual that explains the step-by-step approach the DPS method developed and refined during the National Drought Study.  The Report to Congress summarizes the results of the entire study.  The National Drought Atlas is a compendium of statistics designed to help water managers and planners answer questions about the expected frequency, duration and severity of droughts.

The Atlas was developed collaboratively by the Corps of Engineers, Miami University (Ohio), the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), and International Business Machines (IBM). The Atlas is based on refined national precipitation and streamflow data sets. The statistics were generated using a method (referred to as l-moment analysis) developed at IBM by J.R. Hosking and J.R. Wallis. The method permits greater confidence in estimating drought frequencies from the relatively small number of droughts for which there are precipitation and streamflow records. 

To further solidify the findings of the National Drought Study and the DPS method, on July 16, 1998, Congress passed the National Drought Policy Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-199), which established the National Drought Policy Commission (NDPC).  William Werick, one of the principle investigators on the National Drought Study, served as advisor to the Commission for producing the final report Preparing for Drought in the 21st Century. One of the major recommendations of the NDPC report was the adoption of a national drought policy that favors preparedness over relief. The NDPC also developed a comprehensive inventory of Federal Drought Programs to provide states, localities and individuals with a centralized source for program information.

In the following pages of the National Drought Study we have highlighted the seven steps of the DPS method as it is described in Managing Water for Drought.  Case studies conducted as part of the National Drought Study are presented.  These seven steps provide the framework from which Shared Vision Planning has evolved and continues to evolve as a productive and proactive planning approach for resource planning issues beyond drought preparedness.  The originally published reports are available in their entirety:

  • Managing Water for Drought  September 1994 IWR Report 94-NDS-8 (pdf, 1.57 MB)
  • National Study of Water Management During Drought:  The Report to the US Congress September 1995
    IWR Report 94-NDS-12 (pdf, 1.20 MB

The Seven Steps of the Drought Preparedness Method

The first five steps to drought preparedness are performed iteratively; that is, the sequence of steps is repeated as more information becomes available for evaluation.  It is not unusual for new planning objectives to be added, or existing objectives revised, after the DPS team more clearly understands the extent of the problems. The chapter where each step is discussed in Managing Water for Drought is indicated in parenthesis beside each step.

Step 1 — Building a team  (Chapter 3)

Step 2 — Develop objectives and metrics for evaluation (Chapter 4)

Step 3 — Describe the status quo (Chapter 5)

Step 4 — Formulate alternatives to the status quo (Chapter 6)

Step 5 — Evaluate alternatives and develop study team recommendations (Chapter 7)

Step 6 — Institutionalize the plan (Chapter 8)

Step 7 — Exercise and update the plan and use it during droughts (Chapter 9)


Drought Preparedness Case Studies