House approves bill that would reauthorize drought program

The House of Representatives approved the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act on Monday, which is cosponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

The measure would reauthorize the NIDIS drought-monitoring program through fiscal year 2018 and take steps to improve it.

“Recent droughts in Texas and around the country have been severe,” Smith, the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said. “And the NIDIS program has helped state and local governments, farmers, ranchers and others both monitor and predict drought conditions. NIDIS is a good program that has a history of bipartisan support. And it represents the kind of interagency and intergovernmental cooperation that we need to reauthorize in this difficult fiscal environment.”

NIDIS operates the drought portal website drought.gov. It features historical drought data, current data from weather observations, early warnings about emerging droughts, support services for managing droughts and a forum for stakeholders to discuss drought-related issues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates the program.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), who introduced the bill, said reauthorizing NIDIS would help ease the economic strain of droughts – which cost the economy $70 billion in 2012, according to some estimates.

“NIDIS is an example of a program that is working effectively and that has broad support,” Hall said. “Rather than creating a new government bureaucracy, NIDIS represents a collaborative framework between federal, state and academic partner. Reauthorizing NIDIS will strengthen this important program and will help our state, local and federal officials, farmers, and water managers better prepare for and respond to drought.””