“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
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
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 Atlas. Managing 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
- 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