Edited Version of July 19, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"Impacts of Drought: What does the Public Need to Know?"

Frances E. Winslow, Ph.D., CEM
San Jose Office of Emergency Services

Avagene Moore, Moderator
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the July 19, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!

We are pleased to present a special Community and Family Preparedness program on "Impacts of Drought: What Does the Public Need to Know?" Our speaker today is Frances E. Winslow, Ph.D., CEM, Director of Emergency Preparedness for the City of San José, California. She is responsible for San Jose's Office of Emergency Services including public education programs regarding natural disasters that may occur in the community, such as earthquakes, hazardous materials events, and floods.

Dr. Winslow also leads programs for City staff in emergency preparedness, and is responsible for the development of citywide emergency plans, and oversees the City's Emergency Operations Center. Dr. Winslow is a frequent speaker at conferences on emergency preparedness, including addressing the NOAA/ FEMA/America Red Cross "Long Term Drought Conference."

We are very proud to have Frannie as our speaker today. For any newcomers who may have arrived late, please hold your questions or comments until the end of Frannie's formal remarks. We will remind you of the protocol for Q&A just before we open the floor to questions. Please help me welcome Dr. Frances Winslow. I turn the floor to you now, Frannie.


Frannie Winslow: Thank you, Ava. It is a pleasure for me to be here.

Drought follows a cyclical pattern in most of the United States. Because most of our population lives in cities with public water sources, the impact of drought on daily life has been significantly mitigated, lessening public awareness of drought as a public policy and emergency planning dilemma.

The National Drought Policy Act of 1997 required the President to appoint a commission to study drought. Reports and information from this Commission are available at <http://www.fsa.usda.gov/drought>. The Commission's report is available on-line at <http://www.fsa.usda.gov/drought/finalreport/reports.htm>. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln maintains an informational Web site at <http://enso.unl.edu/ndmc/>, with many links to other drought-related sites.

The immediate impacts of drought are very clear to anyone who lives in a suburban or rural setting. The clearest, and historically most dramatic linkage, is with agriculture.

The infamous "dust bowl" phase of the 1930's changed the face of America, with farmers and their families abandoning their homes and moving West in search of work. John Steinbeck memorialized this era in "The Grapes of Wrath."

Since most farmers depend on wells and surface water sources for their irrigation needs, the impact of drought is felt early on farms. However, farm losses quickly translate into larger social impacts. The loss of this year's corn crops in some areas of the mid-west, for example, is already projected to be felt at the grocery store checkout within a few months. Thus, drought's affects ultimately touch every resident of the US.

Wildland fires are often exacerbated by drought. Drought leaves quantities of dry tinder in wildland areas, providing fuel for fires started by lightening strikes or careless humans. Although wildland fire is part of nature's cycle, our diminishing wildland areas make the burning of these resources a concern. During drought years, wildland fires tend to burn farther and longer because of the dry conditions suffered by all the plants. In addition, drought may make fire fighting more difficult in the wildland areas.

Wildland fire is often fought with helicopter carried water buckets. These buckets are filled by dipping them into lakes or rivers. During drought the flow level in the local bodies of water may be too low to allow for filling the water buckets, resulting in the loss of a crucial wildland fire fighting resource.

Human populations are moving closer to the urban/wildland interface in ever increasing numbers. Thus, when wildland fires start, they more quickly burn into residential areas. Events like the Oakland Hills fire storm of October 1991 point to the importance of good emergency planning in these critical interface areas. Emergency planning needs to begin at the point of development. Emergency planners should work with land use agencies to ensure that roads into wildland interface areas are large enough for fire equipment to travel on safely. In addition to roadway width issues, it is important to plan areas where the apparatus can turn around readily.

Fire fighting water supplies should be multi-layer. Public water supply should support the hydrants, which should be placed at frequent intervals. In addition, a gravity flow source of stored water, such as hilltop cisterns or water towers, is crucial to augment the public sources for fighting intense fires, especially during drought periods. All construction in wildland interface areas should incorporate fire proof or fire retardant materials wherever possible. In the Laguna Hills Firestorm of 1993 the homes with tile roofs did not burn in neighborhoods where all the homes with shake roofs were reduced to cinders.

Fire departments and code enforcement agencies should strictly enforce the clearance zones around homes. Brush clearance and the removal of overhanging trees are significant mitigation measures in wildland interface areas. There is considerable public resistance to clearance zones as many homeowners state they moved out of the city to be able to live in the trees. They also often point out that the shade provided by the trees is critical to the ability to cool their homes. It is important to educate them on the dangers of these landscaping styles in wildland interface zones.

Appropriate landscaping can also be a mitigation factor in wildland interface areas. The presence of windrows of eucalyptus trees in the Oakland Hills contributed to the rapid spread of the fire through the residential areas. Eucalyptus trees explode when they burn, helping the fire to spread more rapidly. Careful application of fire-resistance of landscape material is an important wildland fire mitigation measure.

Landscaping is also an important consideration in drought emergency planning. In the desert areas of the west where water is always in short supply, xerascape has been the landscaping choice for years. Native plants and drought-resistant plants need less water, yet remain alive in years with little rain and water rationing, helping to hold onto the top soil and limit soil erosion, both important elements in dust bowl prevention.

Many communities depend on wells and surface water for their public water supplies. During a drought some wells may dry up, and the quality of surface water may be significantly degraded as levels fall, making it harder to create acceptable drinking quality water.

Emergency planning for drought must include both water rationing/ conservation plans and alternative water supply sources. The most difficult part of creating the rationing/conservation plan is developing equity and fairness among the competing interests in a community.

While a rationing plan must take life and health issues into account first, economic factors must also be considered. Competing interests include residential customers, business customers, industrial users and agricultural applications. For example, while a restaurant may be able to conserve water by using disposable plates and utensils, the repeated purchase of disposable items will change the economics of the restaurant, and create a solid waste disposal problem, which might also add cost. The result of water rationing could be that the restaurant goes out of business. One way residential users might conserve water is by taking showers instead of baths. However, for the elderly, ill, or small children, showers may not be an acceptable alternative.

Economic measures are often used for water rationing. For example, a baseline of water supply is assigned to each customer. Any usage over that amount is charged at premium rates. While this pricing mechanism may result in careful water management for most customers, wealthy people may continue to water valuable landscaping, fill swimming pools, and generally maintain their pre-drought lifestyles and water usage. The extra cost margin for water over the baseline may drive a manufacturing business out of town, or out of business. In either case, the economic impact on the community may be devastating. Therefore, a financial mechanism may not be a good water-rationing tool for communities.

Although dams and retention basins are expensive public works projects, and may be environmentally unacceptable, for some area reservoirs are the only long-term solution to cyclical drought. Stored water from wet years may be used to mitigate the impact of drought years, enabling the community to avoid the most politically unacceptable elements of a drought management/water rationing plan.

Water recycling programs conserve fresh water at all times. They lessen the amount of ground water that has to be pumped in any year, preserving the aquifer supply. Recycled water can support community growth by providing water for non-potable uses, and conserving potable water supplies. During drought, recycled water can provide the competitive economic edge that allows water supplies to industry to remain stable, even in times of potable water rationing.

Installation of low flow devices in sinks and showers and of low flush toilets is another permanent water conservation measure. Water conserved in non-drought years may be available to lessen the impact of drought in the future.

The community's underground aquifers are excellent water storage facilities. Communities can create recharge basins that function as recreational amenities or landscape features during wet years, and allow fresh water to percolate into the aquifer. This stored water can be accessed during drought to mitigate impacts on community potable water systems.

Communities dependent on wells for the public water supply need to have emergency plans for obtaining water from other sources. Pre-event engineering studies are needed to determine where other, deeper wells could be developed in time of need. Plans to purchase potable water from other sources and to truck the water to distribution sites are needed. Pre-need arrangements with the water source and the trucking company are important to ensure that the plan can be activated at time of need. Water distribution plans are as politically volatile as rationing plans. Ensuring that the distribution is equitable among competing interests is difficult. The special needs community (ill, infants, elderly) and people receiving water-consuming medical treatment (like dialysis) will need special consideration in water distribution.

Public education may be the key to community participation in drought mitigation efforts. Residents need to be reminded to conserve water regardless of drought conditions. Excess fresh surface water, released into a marine environment from a treatment plant, can damage the ecology of the area. Daily usage habits of the general public are important drought mitigation steps. It is important that all drought public education materials have a consistent message: conserve/recycle/reduce uses. For example, an easy conservation step is for households to attach nozzles to hoses used to wash cars. This stops the flow of water while the car is being soaped, instead of allowing the unneeded water to run into the storm drain. An easy recycling step is to use the water from kiddie wading pools to water flower boxes and flower beds, instead of dumping the water into the street. An example of reducing use is to sweep the sidewalk to remove dirt instead of using water to wash the sidewalk.

The water conservation message must be delivered from pre-school onward through adulthood. The information must be available in age-appropriate and language-appropriate materials. Media outlets and public information brochure racks should support information distribution from public agencies, water agencies and non-profit organizations.

On February 17, 2000 a Long Term Drought conference was sponsored by the FEMA Community and Family Protection group, the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service. A report and "Proceedings" from this conference will be available soon through FEMA and the American Red Cross. Information from the conference will help local disaster educators understand the phenomenon of drought, and learn about methods of providing successful public education to the community.

Overall, drought is one of the more challenging areas of emergency management. It is an invisible problem to most community members most of the time. Since drought is cyclical, and is spaced with years of excess rainfall and flooding in many areas, it is often difficult to develop the political and financial support to engage in serious pre-need drought planning. Emergency managers should keep drought planning in mind as they work with the land use planners, fire department, parks development, other city departments and community members, on whom drought could have a significant impact.

That concludes my formal presentation. I am happy to take questions.

[Audience Questions / Comments]

Avagene Moore: Thank you for the information on drought, Frannie. You have given us all something to think about and I am sure there are questions for you. Before we begin our interaction with the audience, may I remind you of our protocol for Q&A?

Audience, please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the Enter key or clicking on Send. We will take your questions in the order they are submitted to the screen. We now invite your questions/comments. Just input a ? if you have a question for Frannie.


Rick Tobin: Did the research group discuss the growing threat from plumes of toxics, such as TCE and MTBE during drawn downs of aquifers in drought years?

Frannie Winslow: No, but this is a very important water quality consideration. When I was coordinator in Irvine we had to deal with a plume of TCE that was moving toward Santa Ana's water supply. It complicates issues like the rate at which water can be pumped and the distance that the plume will travel with and without pumping. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the cheap local water source to protect the larger underground water system. This is yet another major public policy decision complicated by drought.


Gene Maxim: I find that it is tempting for water utilities not to promote good year round water conservation practices as the more water they pump the more revenue they generate. Some water utilities around here actually like droughts because of the additional revenue. We need to promote conservation during the good times so that it is a normal activity for all.

Frannie Winslow: In the West we have such a dearth of water even in the best years that water utilities promote conservation and cities promote recycling all the time. Conservation of fresh water is a national concern, both due to its role as a relatively scarce natural resource and as a disposal concern. Too much clear fresh water flowing into a marine environment is very damaging.


Amy Sebring: Frannie, do you know of any good plan guidance specific to drought, including mitigation and contingency (response) planning?

Frannie Winslow: The State of California Department of Water Resources has some planning materials. I am not sure if they are readily available to people out of state. The drought forum sponsored by FEMA/ARC/NOAA that I mentioned earlier will have some guidance materials within their proceedings. The State of Maryland presented some proactive suggestions at the conference, as well. The National Drought Center in Nebraska is also a good resource


Michael Hayes: You mention "equity and fairness". Does the public need to be involved in discussing and determining the equity and fairness issues within the community and how is this done?

Frannie Winslow: Yes, public involvement in the decision-making process is crucial. In Irvine we held public hearings at both the City Council and at the Water District. The residents and businesses are the ones who have to change their lifestyles and bear the financial burden. It would be political suicide for an elected body to attempt to dictate this in a vacuum. The role of staff is to explain the options, costs and benefits, and let community members voice their concerns and preferences to the elected officials. This way the decision seems more like participative democracy than dictatorship.


Avagene Moore: Frannie, are you aware of a massive campaign for conservation of water on an ongoing basis? It seems we only hear about the need during periods of drought, as Gene suggested. What suggestions do you have for pushing conservation of water as a daily practice?

Frannie Winslow: In California we actually have requirements in the plumbing code for low flow devices and low flush toilets in all new construction. We also have campaigns from emergency management and water districts that encourage conservation daily. These are often school-based programs that teach children to conserve from kindergarten onwards. Children make great conservation ambassadors because they are in the house all the time to "monitor" their parents' behaviors with water, and to reinforce the "don't waste" message. The Irvine Ranch Water District developed a mascot, a Keystone cop type figure, who appears on buttons, pins and other give-aways that children get at school. He has a big smile and his hand raised in the stop position, with a whistle in his mouth and the logo says "Don't waste water."


Rick Tobin: Just a point of information: The California Department of Water Resources has a document ordering section. All of their publicly available documents can be ordered from there. Sorry, I don't have an address.

Frannie Winslow: They also have a Web site that probably has the ordering address. I think the Web site is DWR.ca.gov.

[Note: See http://wwwdwr.water.ca.gov/ and new California State-wide planning Web site at http://dplasp.water.ca.gov/]


Heather Guse: General question regarding drought education. What education is available for citizens on drought, specifically in regards to misperceptions that floods bring us more than enough water? Citizens of the Midwest believe that recent rains have protected us from the national threat of drought without taking into consideration the contamination of current water supplies.

Frannie Winslow: Again I think California DWR and Nebraska's center are good resources. American Red Cross had some information, and I believe that FEMA has publications, as well. Water providers in each area should have access to their trade associations' materials that I have only seen briefly. EPA would also be a good source for information on the pollution of ground water and the problem of obtaining/developing clean drinking water in most of the US. Interestingly, because of agricultural activities, rural areas often have the worst problem developing good public supplies of drinking water.


Jeff Phillips: Water is the #1 issue for most people in New Mexico but there are so many competing interests (citizens, conservation groups, industry, flood irrigators, etc.). It is clear that we are not paying the true cost of water. Is there a precedent for SIGNIFICANTLY increasing the price of water as a conservation measure?

Frannie Winslow: This technique was tried in Southern California during the drought of the early 1980s. The problem, as I noted, is that it punishes the poor, and has little impact on the wealthy. Also, a big increase in the price of water will often drive out manufacturing plants and other basic industries causing unwanted community repercussions. This is why having everyone conserve is the essential starting point, with public debate over price setting and rationing. I watched an elderly woman go into heat shock in Irvine because she used her daily water ration to keep alive the plants that her recently deceased husband had lovingly planted over the years of their marriage. I also saw a town lose almost all its jobs and cause small businesses to go into bankruptcy because of water rationing.


Gene Maxim: We have a lot of water in our state and water supplies that have not been a problem until recently. Now competing interests are starting to develop. We are having a conference at the University of Maine on the 26th of this month to work on developing a water supply/future needs/priorities/mitigation vision for Maine. At this time we do not have any programs to help people affected by drought and there seems to be little available quick Federal help. Often help seems to be available when it is almost too late.

Frannie Winslow: I urge you to visit the sites mentioned in this chat room. They all have useful information that is a good starting place.


Michael Hayes: The Web site for the National Drought Mitigation Center here in Lincoln is <http://enso.unl.edu/ndmc>. Regarding the earlier question, there is a 10-step drought planning process on this site and links to other planning processes as well, such as the AWWA's drought planning process for municipalities. Also on the NDMC site is a methodology included within a guide titled "How to Reduce Drought Risk". And finally, a national drought-monitoring product located at <http://enso.unl.edu/monitor>.

Frannie Winslow: Yes. Michael's sites are some of those I was referring to. Thanks for the Web links.


Amy Sebring: Frannie, in your planning, do you actually have emergency priorities defined and ranked?

Frannie Winslow: Yes. In San Jose we place health care first, basic water ration for residents second, and manufacturing third, above many other entities because the computer industry, which is heavily water dependent is the economic engine, not only of this valley, but of the whole US economy. In the last 5 years San Jose has been the #1 dollar value exporting city in the US.


Michael Hayes: Do you think people in San Jose have a better understanding of drought now than in 1976 or 1987-1992? Is there a lot of confusion with El Nino and La Nina?

Frannie Winslow: Drought in San Jose is relative. Because we are at the bottom of the valley floor we have a high water table, and lots of surface water. We are part of the Northern California belt that ships water south to the desert areas of the state. People understand conservation as a way to "Save the Bay," a big slogan here. I don't think they really believe in drought just as most of them refuse to believe in earthquakes. This makes emergency management a politically sensitive area all the time!


Amy Sebring: If I may follow up to my last question, is fire-fighting specifically mentioned on the priority list? Or is it assumed?

Frannie Winslow: Fire-fighting is not subject to rationing because the hydrants are on a different water supply system. That water can come from many sources, including recycled water and water directly from the Bay.


Gene Maxim: What programs have you developed to assist people during the dry times?

Frannie Winslow: Aside from the usual social services, we have nothing drought-specific.


Kathleen Gohn: What success have you had in working with the news media to get the conservation message out?

Frannie Winslow: The Santa Clara Valley Water District has a major media campaign that they pay for. In the winter it is "Ask Noah" and talks about flood planning and in the spring and summer it is "Ask Mrs. Noah" and is about many ways to conserve fresh water. Since the District is a good ad customer they have a good contact with the Mercury News when they need a news story places about dam repairs, aqueduct issues, or other activities that impact potable water supplies.

Final Question:

Jeff Phillips: Is it now standard practice for conservation messages to be contained on bills nationwide as it is here?

Frannie Winslow: In San Jose it is seasonal for outdoor uses, but constant, with rebates, for low flow and low flush.

Avagene Moore: I don't think it is a standard practice across the country, not in my county.


Avagene Moore: We are out of time for today. Thank you very much for being with us today, Frannie. We wish you continued success with your program in San Jose. Audience, thank you for your presence and participation. Please stand by a moment if you can while we take care of some announcements. Amy, will you tell us what's coming up for next week, please?

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Ava. First I would like to mention a new pledge, Elaine Sudanowicz from the Boston Emergency Management Agency (who was here earlier but lost her connection) <//bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav>. Thanks Elaine!

Next week is our Tech Arena session, and Jim Cook from Essential Technologies will be on hand to demo a new Internet-based product, OpsCenter. According to the product announcement. "For those that don't want to bear the expense of a dedicated Emergency Operations Center (EOC), OpsCenter makes the virtual EOC a reality."

Please join us then. Late today we will have the text version of today's session posted, which you can access from the Transcripts Link under Quick Picks on our home page.

Then on Monday we will have reformatted online and Word versions available from the same place.

I would also like to mention that our birthday celebration is August 9 when we will be three years old! Those who have attended before know that this is a time we have some fun. So please mark it on your calendar and be ready to put on your //hats!

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. If there are any announcements from the floor, please pop them in now. Frannie, closing comment?

Frannie Winslow: Thanks for the opportunity to share. The Web sites are a great resource.

Avagene Moore: Thanks to all our participants today. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are welcome to remain for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks.