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Drought is different from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. It can be more difficult to detect and it can last much longer than other weather events. We don’t have “watches” or “warnings” for drought like we do for other natural hazards. But just because drought is different from the other natural disasters doesn’t mean we can’t plan for it and take steps to help protect ourselves from the effects of drought. In fact, the National Drought Mitigation Center helps people plan for drought.

What does mitigation mean?


When you want to cross a street, you look both ways before crossing, don’t you? Of course you do! Looking both ways before crossing the street is a very simple thing that you can do to help reduce your risk of being injured by oncoming traffic. Reducing your risk of being injured would be an action that mitigates harm to you.

When we think about mitigation as it relates to drought, mitigation means taking actions before, or at the beginning of, drought to help reduce the impacts (or effects) of drought. We can do many things to mitigate drought. Let’s take a look at the ways that people, communities, states, and the nation can reduce drought risk.

In this section, we’ll learn about things we can do to ahead of time to prepare for drought in our communities and our environment. These things include making drought plans, conserving water, building dams and other structures that help us store water, and learning about drought and your environment.

Understanding Drought and the Environment

The first step that we can take to mitigate drought is to understand drought and our environment. By learning about drought on this website, you have already taken a step to reduce your risk to drought. It is very important that we all understand drought and also very important that we understand the environment where we live. 

Just like you have certain characteristics, such as your hair color or even foods you like, the environment where you live also has characteristics. The climate where you live can be thought of as a characteristic of your environment. Other characteristics of your environment might be whether there are forests or grasslands, or whether you live in the mountains or by a river or ocean. The characteristics of your environment hold clues about how often you might expect to experience drought, what the impacts of drought would be, and steps you and your community can take to protect yourselves and your environment from drought.

Here are a few clues to help you start finding information about drought and your environment.

Is Your Region or City Experiencing Drought?


The U.S. Drought Monitor identifies which areas of the United States are experiencing drought conditions and how severe the conditions are. Check out the map to see whether your area is experiencing drought right now.

The Drought Atlas is a great tool to help you find out how often drought has occurred in your area. Some areas are more likely to have droughts, or to have droughts that last for longer periods of time, than other areas. Take a look at the Drought Atlas to check up on your area.

Knowing how often drought has occurred in your area can help you understand how likely it is that a drought will occur in your area in the future. Scientists study these patterns and make forecasts of where and when drought might happen. Check out the Climate Prediction Center website to find the drought outlook for your area.

What Are the Impacts of Drought in Your Area?


If you know what impacts drought is having on your community and your environment, you can take steps that will help protect you from drought. The Drought Impact Reporter is a tool that shows drought impacts across the United States. You can use it to see past and present impacts, and you can also send us information about how drought is affecting your community or environment. We’d love to hear from you!

Where Does Your Water Come From?


When you turn on the faucet in your house, water comes streaming out. Do you know where that water comes from, before it comes through the pipes in your house? The answer to that question depends on where you live. It is very important to know where your water comes from to understand how drought might put your water supply at risk. Let’s take a quick look at some water sources.

Groundwater

Many people get their water from wells dug deep (or sometimes not so deep) into the ground. People who live in rural areas often have their own wells, which deliver water to their house or farm only. Some towns and cities also have groundwater wells that supply water to the people and businesses in the city. 

Surface Water

People who do not get their water from groundwater most likely get water from rivers or large lakes called reservoirs. The water is then pumped into towns and cities using pipes, canals, or other devices.

Many great resources are available to help you learn more about water sources. You can also ask your parents or check your city or county website to find out where your water comes from. Our list of resources can help you get started.

Tell Others about Your Drought Research


Some students have made their own drought websites. You can do the same thing to describe drought, especially in your region. You can also point out projects to your teachers that they can use in the classroom to help others learn about drought.

Water Conservation

One of the easiest steps we can take to help mitigate the impacts of drought is conserving water. If we use water wisely at all times, more water will be available to us and to plants and wildlife when a drought happens. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways you and your community can conserve water.

Make Every Drop Count


We can lose a lot of water doing simple everyday tasks. Did you know that turning off the water while you brush your teeth can save more than 100 gallons of water a month? If you have a leaky faucet, the drips can add up to 300 gallons of wasted water a month.

Water-saving Devices


Just shutting off the faucet or fixing a leak can save a lot of water. Another way to save water is to install devices that use less water to perform everyday tasks. For example, we use the most water in our homes when we take a shower or flush the toilet. Companies now sell low-flow toilets and showerheads that can cut the amount of water used in half. People are even beginning to use composting toilets that require no water. Also, new washing machines and dishwashers use much less water than older machines. 

Many cities have programs to help people buy these new water-saving devices. Check with your city to find out if they have these programs. Remember, saving water also means saving money.

Farmers and businesses are also using new inventions to help them reduce the amount of water they use to grow crops or manufacture things. New sprinkler irrigation systems can reduce water use by spraying the water out with less force so more gets to the plant and less evaporates or blows away. Some drip irrigation systems use less water by directing the water directly to the plant’s roots. If you have a garden or if your parents water your lawn, many similar devices are available for use around the home too.

Xeriscaping


Another great way that you can reduce the amount of water used around your house is through xeriscaping. It’s a funny-looking word, but it is a fun way to conserve water! Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that uses little water by only using plants that are native to the area you live in. 

Native plants usually need less water to grow or can make better use of the water that is available to them than other types of grasses, trees, and shrubs. People who do this type of landscaping also find creative ways to use rocks or other types of ground covers in their yards or even in front of their businesses. The keys to xeriscaping are to use only as much water as the plants need and to choose landscaping designs and plants that make use of the available rainfall. 

Xeriscaping is very common in drier places like Arizona, New Mexico, and even Utah, but it is catching on all across the United States and many parts of the world. You can learn more from your local extension service or landscaping or nursery businesses in your towns. You can also learn more about xeriscaping from the websites in our list of resources.

Water Recycling


Businesses, cities, and people are finding new ways to save water by reusing it. Many businesses have started recycling water that they use in their manufacturing process. Instead of letting water run down the drain, the water is collected, cleaned (if needed) and run back through the system. 

Many cities and other types of businesses are using “gray water” (waste water that is treated and cleaned) to water golf courses and city parks. Water parks like Denver Water World are recycling the splash water into other areas of the water park.

Pollution Prevention

Protecting the quality of water we have available is another extremely important step in reducing our risk from drought. We may do enough to conserve the quantity of water available to us by reducing how much water we use. But if our water becomes polluted we won’t be able to use that water for our daily activities. Polluted water will also harm plants and wildlife in our environment.

Chemicals that we use in our houses or on our lawns and crops are very common pollutants. Other pollutants that can easily end up in our water are oil and gas from our cars and chemicals from businesses and mining. These pollutants get into the water supply through runoff, spills, and applying or using more chemicals than we really need.

We have many laws to protect our water supplies from chemicals used in businesses, mining, and farming, but very few (if any) laws to protect our water from the chemicals we use in our houses and cars and on our yards. So it is very important to learn about the chemicals you use to clean your house, fertilize your lawn, and run your family’s car. It’s very important to make sure they are stored in places where they won’t get spilled and that you follow the directions for their use. Only use what you need, and only when you need it. 

You can also find different cleaners that are nontoxic and safer for you and our water. You can use different methods, such as composting, to fertilize the plants in your yard. You can learn more about ways to prevent pollution by using the links in our resources. Your city, extension service, or state department of environmental quality may also have information about preventing pollution.

Storing and Moving Water

Understanding where your water comes from will help you understand what you can do to mitigate the effects of drought. Your water supply might be from surface waters (water on the surface of the earth, like rivers) or from groundwater (water that is under the surface of the earth). Conserving water is the best way for us to make sure that we all have water even when we are in drought. But sometimes, if a drought is very severe or if people don’t use less water, we have to make sure we have enough water. Let’s take a look at some ways to store water and get that stored water to people when it’s needed.

Dams


Many people rely on rain or snow that flows into rivers for their water. When we have a drought, we might not have enough rain or snow to keep enough water in the river for all the people who need the water. To make sure that they have enough water throughout the year, people build dams to store water when they need it. 

When a dam is built on a river, a large lake, called a reservoir, is made. The reservoir “stores” the water for people’s use. Reservoirs can provide fish and wildlife habitat and also are often great places for us to boat and fish. They also can be used to produce power. 

About 75,000 large dams have been built in the United States, and that number is continuing to grow. However, in some places, dams are being removed from rivers. Dams do help us, but they have some drawbacks. Reservoirs can provide some fish and wildlife habitat, but they can also create problems for the health of the fish and wildlife that live in the river. Dams also wear down over the years and can create safety problems. So, because of some of the drawbacks of dams, people are always looking for new ways to store or protect our water supplies. 

Be sure to check out our resources for more links to information about how dams are built and their good and bad points.

Groundwater and Wells


Another source of water is groundwater (water found below the surface of the earth). Aquifers are like underground lakes. Just like lakes above the ground, aquifers can be different sizes. Some are very small and some are very large, like the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala Aquifer is under parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Ogallala Aquifer holds enough water to cover all of the United States with water that would be one and a half feet deep.

People drill wells into aquifers so they can bring water to the surface to use. Water in aquifers can be just a few feet below the earth’s surface or hundreds of feet deep. The water that is closer to the surface is easier for us to use, but it can also be more easily polluted than the water that is much deeper. 

When we have a drought, people may drill more wells for irrigation or even to make sure that a city has enough drinking water. People may also have to drill wells deeper into the aquifer to find enough water to use. If people use too much water, they may not be able to drill deep enough to get enough water to use. 

To find out more about aquifers and the steps you and your community can take to protect and conserve groundwater, check out the links we have in our resources.

Canals and Pipelines


Water canals and pipelines have been built in many places to make sure that as many people as possible have access to water supplies. Canals and pipelines are used to transport water from reservoirs and wells to farmers for irrigation and cities for drinking water. Canals like the Central Arizona Project and the Los Angeles Aqueduct carry billions of gallons of water each year to areas that do not have enough water. 

Check out our resources section to find more information about how canals and pipelines are used to transport water. You can also check with your city, county, or local water authority to find out where your water comes from.

Desalination


We need fresh water for drinking, for our daily activities, and for growing our food. But almost all of the water on the surface of the earth is salt water from the oceans and seas. In fact, 97 percent of all water on earth is salt water.

People have been trying to find a way to use ocean water in place of fresh water for many years. With new technology, turning seawater into water that we can drink and use is becoming much easier and much cheaper. Desalination, or removing salt from seawater, is still expensive, but some cities in the United States and other countries are building desalination plants to help them meet their water needs. 

The Tampa Bay Desalination Project in Florida is the largest desalination plant of its kind in the United States. Other plants are being planned in states such as California, Texas, and Hawaii. Other countries, like Japan and Korea, also have desalination plants. You can find more links about desalination in the resources section of our website.