White House creates drought relief working group

White House announces formation of interagency group, pointing to historically low water allocations in the Klamath and Colorado river basins.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were named Wednesday to be co-chairs of a Biden administration working group charged with addressing worsening drought conditions in the western half of the nation. Some 45% of the continental United States is facing conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional drought.

The White House announced the formation of the interagency group, pointing to historically low water allocations in the Klamath River Basin in the Northwest and the Colorado River Basin in the Rockies. Besides addressing the needs of drought-afflicted communities, “the working group also will explore opportunities to improve our nation’s resilience to droughts and other severe climate impacts that are upending Americans’ lives and economic livelihoods,” it said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for water systems in the Russian River watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties on the Pacific Coast north of San Francisco, reported CALmatters, a nonprofit news site. The declaration allows more water to be stored in reservoirs that serve the two counties. Newsom said he was preparing a separate statewide order for a range of actions that include closer monitoring of groundwater pumping and identifying vulnerable rural water systems.

Haaland said the working group would take a “proactive approach” to drought relief. “We are committed to using every resource available to our bureaus to ensure that tribes, irrigators, and the adjoining communities receive adequate assistance and support,” she said.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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