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Drought management discussed at meeting

Although Covington County has not experienced the effects of a severe drought this year, the possibility of such an event occurring is a real one and a troubling one.

The issue of drought management was the topic of a meeting held Monday might at the USDA Service Center.

Leading the discussion was P.E. Leslie A. Durham of the state's Office of Water Resources, a division of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

Durham explained that her agency is not a water quality unit, but one that is charged by the state toward water resources planning and management.

"We want to make sure the water is there, with groundwater and surface water, and to develop a long and short term plan for today," said Durham. "We want to work toward a common goal of minimizing the impacts of drought. We recognize that we don't have all the answers and nobody has all the answers."

She said it is important to note there are four different types of droughts, including:

Meteorological: There is not enough water to meet various needs.

Agricultural: When the soil moisture has become too low to sustain adequate crops.

Hydrological: Precipitation decrease has lasted for a sufficient time that stream flows or reservoir levels are reduced noticeably.

Socioeconomic: Drought begins to cause problems financially, such as higher water rates and surcharges. Durham said several areas in Alabama are experiencing socioeconomic drought.

"We cannot prevent drought, but we can minimize the effects and reduce the risks associated with drought," said Durham. "By working together we can all adapt

to drought situations. Planning is going to be the ultimate key to develop a drought management strategy for this state."

She said the group is trying to be more proactive in its efforts as opposed to reactive efforts from past task groups. Durham said the group is working with various state and federal agencies.

In May, Governor Don Siegelman signed Executive Order #70, which formed the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team (ADAPT), and said the Office of Water Resources is working with Siegelman's office and ADAPT.

ADAPT is a two-tiered program, with a Monitoring and Analysis Group, which does technical data gathering and a Drought Impact Group that conducts impact responses and addresses needs and concerns for various people.

The Office of Water Resources (OWR) has divided the state into seven drought regions, with Covington a member of Region 6 along with Escambia, Conecuh, Butler, Crenshaw, Bullock, Pike, Coffee, Geneva, Russell, Barbour, Henry, Dale and Houston.

"When it was determined that (OWR would assist ADAPT), I conducted a comprehensive drought assessment and we began working immediately," said Durham. "We already had ideas on things we needed to do, and we've set up meetings to facilitate input from interested stakeholders and local interests. We are listening to everybody that will talk to us. We are trying to make sure that everybody's suggestions, concerns and needs are met in this draft plan. We are thinking that education is the key, especially with water conservation."

She said her agency is trying to educate the public on current drought conditions as well as things it can do now to alleviate any impacts it may be experiencing from the dry conditions.

Willie Durr of the Covington County Extension System, who attended Monday's meeting, noted that weather in the county has been sporadic at best over the last half decade or so.

"During the last five years here, (the weather) has been a roller coaster," said Durr. "Generally here in April and May, the weather has been anywhere from extremely wet or extremely dry, to almost low soil temperatures which affect germination and growth. We have seen a lot of that, and

there are also ponds (in the county) which are literally dried out."

For more information about OWR's drought management updates or to find out about future meetings, check the group's web site at www.adeca.state.al.us/drought. The site is updated weekly, said Durham, and also contains various data and links to other water-related web pages.