Nebraska’s Lower Platte South Natural Resources District jump-started drought planning with an innovative drought tournament in February 2015, and that effort won a Public Outreach Award from the Nebraska Chapter of the American Planning Association at its annual meeting in March 2016.
This marked the first time that a drought tournament has been based on historic events in an actual watershed. The concept of drought tournaments was developed in 2011 in Canada, with the idea of tapping into participants’ competitive energies by dividing them into teams with assigned roles for each player, and judging each team’s response to a hypothetical drought. Since then, Colorado and Oklahoma have also held drought tournaments. As noted in the award nomination, before the LPS NRD’s tournament, these were all state-level tournaments, focused on hypothetical locations and events.
The goals of the LPS NRD Drought Tournament were to bring together agricultural producers and municipal water providers in a “low-stress, no fault environment” to talk about issues that could arise in drought, and to learn about what management practices are already in place for drought response, the nomination said. Themes that emerged in discussion included the need for year-round education and outreach related to water conservation, and the need for consistent, coordinated messaging to the public.
The nomination stressed that Nebraska’s NRDs are well-positioned to coordinate and manage water-related issues, and the tournament helped the LPS NRD “to be the first NRD in the state to develop a plan specifically geared towards managing drought events within their district.” The plan recommends creating a drought management committee.
The drought plan is partly a result of the LPS NRD’s voluntary Integrated Management Plan (IMP), adopted in 2014, which addresses long-term ground and surface-water sustainability in the district. The IMP said the district needed a plan for what to do during drought, as well as long-term measures to reduce drought vulnerability.
Consultants helped the district orchestrate the drought tournament. The district hired HDR to help implement the recommendations of its IMP, and HDR brought in JEO as a drought management subject matter expert.
Glenn Johnson, general manager of the LPS NRD, said “District staff was initially skeptical of this approach, but warmed to it with further discussion and today are excited and pleased with the results. The participation by a broad group of stakeholders from water suppliers and water users in the actual tournament setting exceeded our expectations and the interaction between the participants was very active and candid. As we move forward with developing a District Plan the input received at the Drought Tournament will be invaluable.”
The LPS NRD's website also credits JEO, saying that they are sharing the award.
Drought tournaments as a form of scenario planning have been conducted at a variety of scales, with NDMC representatives contributing and observing in various capacities. As noted in an award recommendation letter from the NDMC, the competitive element was less overt in the LPS NRD tournament, with instead a prevailing tone of courtesy and appreciation for the chance to get to know counterparts in related organizations.
In addition to interest from other NRDs in Nebraska, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Institute for Water Resources is developing the drought tournament concept. It teamed up with the San Antonio River Authority, which hosted a tournament in September 2015, and another tournament in Iowa is in the works for summer 2016.
-- Kelly Helm Smith