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Short-and Long-Term Solutions to Extreme Drought in the Western United States

CRS – Statement of Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy, Before Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate Hearing on “Short-and Long-Term Solutions to Extreme Drought in the Western United States” June 14, 2022: “Chairman Manchin, Ranking Member Barrasso, and Members of the committee, thank you for inviting the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to provide testimony on short and long-term solutions to extreme drought in the western United States. My name is Charles Stern. I am a Specialist in Natural Resources Policy at CRS. In serving Congress on a nonpartisan and objective basis, CRS takes no position on legislation and makes no recommendations. CRS remains available to assist the committee in its development and consideration of water resource and other legislation. My comments today will largely focus on drought not in any one specific location, but as a broader policy issue. I will start by providing background and context on drought in general, including abbreviated information on the status of the current drought in the western United States and prospects for future droughts. I will then provide a broad survey of federal drought policy and authorities, along with a summary of some current proposals for new and modified approaches to address drought…”

The current western drought is the latest in a series of droughts that have affected the nation. Among natural disasters in the United States since 1980, droughts rank third in terms of both total costs and costs per year for damages. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from 1980 to 2021 29 drought events with costs over $1 billion occurred, and total losses from these events exceeded $291 billion (CPI-adjusted dollars). In addition to the effect of drought on agricultural production and local economies, drought can lead to water restrictions affecting municipal and industrial supplies, decreased hydropower generation and power plant cooling efficiency, navigation limitations and disruptions, harm to drought-sensitive ecosystems and species, and increased fire risk, among other effects…”

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