Ballard addresses Congress about drought 

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROB CRAWLEY VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley via Flickr Creative Commons

Mayor Greg Ballard spoke in front of a U.S. House of Representatives committee Wednesday on the effects that drought has had on local business. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held the hearing to address reauthorizing the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which provides drought forecasting for cities around the nation.

Ballard said that he was forced to declare a water shortage and place restrictions on water use in the city on July 11. The new restrictions outlawed lawn irrigation with sprinklers, which Ballard said accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the water being used by the city during drought. Ballard went on to say businesses such as golf courses and nurseries were exempt from the watering bans, but business in the city has been hurt by the restrictions.

"Jobs have definitely been affected," Ballard said. "The drought has placed as incredible burden on businesses and households. These [water] restrictions are unfortunate, but necessary."

The NIDIS Act, which was signed into law in 2006, is a cooperative project between several state governments and federal agencies to provide a widely accessible drought information and prediction system. NIDIS hopes to provide a greater understanding of how droughts affect the economy, society and environment of the nation while providing early warning services for farmers and city planners.

Ballard mentioned that Indianapolis relies on NIDIS and its data for predicting droughts in order to diligently address the problem a year-to-year basis.

"I certainly support more timely and accurate drought predictions," Ballard said.

Other witnesses from around the country testified about the damaging effects of drought and how NIDIS helps to alleviate the devastation by providing states with a reliable prediction system.

Hydrologist Dr. James Familglietti spoke in support of NIDIS, but also mentioned how the committee should be focused on prevention in addition to prediction. Familglietti said that the number of droughts has increased over the last decade and that the nation should be more aware of the global water shortage and focus on water management.

"Water is on a trajectory to rival energy as an issue for our country," Familglietti said. "Yet water management is woefully underfunded...We must fill in the fundamental knowledge gaps of the world's water systems."

Familglietti encouraged the committee to fund NIDIS as well as research facilities which monitor the world's fresh water reserves through satellite missions.

A ranking member of the committee Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) spoke about how she was happy that NIDIS was getting bi-partisan support when so many environmental propositions in the committee were rejected by the Republicans. Johnson mentioned that this was a step in the right direction, but that she would like more research on how global climate change was affecting droughts in the country.

"To play politics and categorically deny the linkage between climate change and extreme weather is both irrational and irresponsible," Johnson said. "Policymakers at every level have a duty to protect public welfare, and ignoring the realities of climate change simply leaves us less-informed and ill-prepared for catastrophic events such as droughts and floods."

While Familglietti and Johnson focused on the larger issue behind the droughts, Republicans at the hearing stuck to the matter at hand and only addressed the drought predictions provided by NIDIS. Chairman of the committee Ralph Hall (R-TX) reminded those present that debating the cause of drought was not the topic of discussion, but instead addressing NIDIS and how its prediction services could be improved.

Despite the diverging focuses of Democrats and Republicans at the meeting, there was bi-partisan praise for the work that NIDIS has accomplished since 2006 and support for reauthorizing it in the future. Johnson spoke after the hearing about the importance the NIDIS Act.

"The NIDIS program is an essential part of understanding and preparing for drought," Johnson said. "The witnesses' testimony will be helpful as we prepare to reauthorize the NIDIS Act of 2006 and seek to make NIDIS a more effective and useful system."

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