DOI Press Release
June 4, 2003
WASHINGTON, June 4, 2003--Interior Secretary Gale A.
Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman
today signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will
enable both agencies to respond more quickly to
emerging water supply shortages in the West and
speed assistance to the farmers, ranchers and
communities in greatest need.
"This agreement will bring focused federal
assistance to Western communities facing severe
water shortages," Secretary Norton said. "It will
enable the departments of Agriculture and Interior
to respond quickly and to effectively coordinate
existing programs to maximize the benefits of those
"The MOU is an important step in our continuing
efforts to help farmers, ranchers and rural
communities impacted by drought, while at the same
time enhancing our natural resources," Secretary
Veneman said. "The USDA Drought Coordinating Council
will help identify and marshal resources to address
drought-related issues. We are working to take
action and deploy resources where the needs exist,
whether in the wise management of public rangelands
and watersheds, or fire prevention and suppression
through the Healthy Forests Initiative."
Much of the West has been hard hit by a multi-year
drought that has left several critical reservoirs at
historic lows and led to water shortages around the
region. The continuing drought magnifies already
stressed water supplies in important river basins.
In some areas, there is not enough water to meet the
needs of cities, farms, tribes, and the environment
even under normal water conditions.
The MOU signed today is part of Water 2025:
Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West, a
recently launched proposal under which Interior and
USDA are working with state and local governments to
identify the watersheds facing the greatest
potential water supply risks in the next 25 years,
evaluate the most effective ways of addressing these
challenges, and recommend cooperative planning
approaches and tools that have the most likelihood
The proposal calls for concentrating existing
federal financial and technical resources in key
western watersheds and working to coordinate
programs between agencies.
The MOU will ready the agencies to address the most
severe situations. It establishes an interagency
Task Force, co-chaired by the deputy secretary of
each department, which will identify areas of the
country with severe water supply problems that are
in need of focused assistance and use interagency
Drought Action Teams to mobilize the appropriate
federal resources to help those communities and
producers in need. These teams will include
department level policy officials and appropriate
staff from bureaus or agencies in each department.
The teams are temporary in nature, and will serve as
first responders in the worst of situations.
Interior and USDA will use their established
authorities and programs to work with states,
tribes, and local entities to minimize the impacts
of water supply crises that affect communities,
farms, ranches, and the environment.
Both departments offer a range of assistance
programs. USDA recently made available $53 million
in Ground and Surface Water Conservation funding
under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
to help farmers and ranchers implement technologies
and practices to conserve water and mitigate the
long-term impacts of drought, in addition to $7
million in funding for conservation efforts specific
to the Klamath Basin. USDA also is using the 2003
Livestock Feed Assistance Program to provide surplus
stock of non-fat dry milk to livestock producers in
areas hardest hit by continuing drought.
Additional USDA programs that provide relief
assistance include the Emergency Conservation
Program (ECP), the Noninsured Crop Disaster
Assistance Program (NAP), Emergency Loan Assistance
(EM), and emergency haying and grazing of certain
Conservation Reserve Program acreage, and crop
Interior's Bureau of Reclamation has authority for
construction, management, and conservation measures
to alleviate drought conditions, including the
construction of permanent wells. When drought is
declared for an area, Reclamation can also undertake
temporary contracts to provide water supplies and
can use Reclamation facilities to store and convey
drought relief water.
Reclamation also has funded the purchase of water to
mitigate drought effects on fish and wildlife in the
Rio Grande, Pecos, and Klamath Rivers. And the
bureau has constructed wells for tribes and small
communities that have inadequate resources to handle
More information on the Water 2025 proposal and the
Memorandum of Understanding are on-line at http://www.doi.gov/water2025.
Information on relief available to farmers and
ranchers is on-line at http://disaster.usda.gov.