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Creating Drought Prepared Communities With These Important Steps

September 18, 2020

Creating Drought Prepared Communities

In the first week of August alone, 52.4 million people in the U.S. were affected by drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Portal. Drought conditions were felt in nearly one-third of the country’s land area, with exceptional drought levels seen in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, and California. Droughts may be harder to identify than other extreme weather events, like hurricanes, hailstorms, or floods -- but the destruction they cause can be just as great. Each year, droughts cause loss of life, and impact communities and home and business owners across the country.

Drought is defined as a lack of precipitation over an extended period of time, which results in a shortage of water. The natural impacts of drought conditions can be made worse by humans due to environmental impacts and growing water needs. To plan for drought conditions in your area and reduce the costly effects of a drought, review this Drought Preparation Checklist for Communities. 

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As part of the community’s effort to plan for droughts and respond to drought conditions, homeowners can also implement immediate measures to conserve water, reducing the impact of future droughts on the local water supply. Finally, drought conditions can affect soil conditions, including causing erosion. What’s happening underground can cause significant damage to a home’s foundation, even if the homeowner can’t see it from above. Understanding how drought conditions can impact a home before costly damages occur and scheduling a regular annual home inspection can help.

Reviewing Historical Drought Conditions

To begin creating a drought-ready community, a review of the history of drought conditions in the area is important. How often has the community been affected by droughts in the past and for how long? What was the economic impact to the area? What areas of the community were most affected? Are some areas affected by drought conditions more often than others? Understanding the past can help communities plan for the future. In addition, identifying repeated drought conditions or major financial impacts from past droughts can help strengthen the community’s commitment to becoming drought-ready.

One important part of preparing for a drought is educating homeowners, businesses, and elected officials about the past and potential future impacts. This includes the damage to homes and buildings that can be caused by changing soil conditions. In addition, researching programs that are available to help in response to an emergency, including drought and reduction in water supply, is essential. There are numerous federal, state, and local resources available to help communities plan for and respond to a drought.

Understanding the Local Water Supply vs. Demand

Next, understanding a community’s water supply, how the water is used, and what the projected future demand will be is an important part of planning for a drought. This can help communities plan for future water needs, respond to water shortages, and understand where to implement water conservation efforts. If not already in place, implementing a monitoring system that consistently reviews the community’s water resources and identifies issues or concerns as soon as possible is important. Make sure to identify who is responsible for the ongoing water resource monitoring.

As part of the community’s water resources review, create a list of the areas, businesses, groups, and individuals who would be most affected by a lack of water. For some communities, this could be farmers or other agricultural industries. For others, it could be businesses supported by tourists visiting natural water resources like lakes and rivers. Another important part of a drought preparedness plan is a communications plan that identifies what information is important to collect and share with key stakeholders, partners, and the general public about a drought. How will you communicate with these groups, and how often should you do so in an emergency?

Water Conservation Strategies for Homeowners

Finally, as part of drought preparation planning, communities should consider water conservation strategies to help mitigate future drought conditions and communicate those to the public, businesses, and other stakeholders. For example, fixing leaky pipes and installing water-saving appliances are things homeowners can do right now to plan for future drought conditions. Everyone can benefit from being reminded about how important water conservation is and how simple it can be to help. Turning off the tap in the bathroom while brushing your teeth and exchanging baths for short showers is something everyone in the community can do to help.

For homeowners who want to do a bit more, installing a toilet dam, faucet aerators, and low-flow shower heads are impactful conservation efforts. In addition, changes to a home’s exterior can help reduce water use. Plant natural vegetation that grows well in the local conditions and doesn’t need overwatering also helps. Reducing the size of a lawn with shrubs, trees, and other vegetation that requires much less water makes a big impact. If homeowners do have a grass lawn, they should leave it two to three inches long when mowing to improve moisture retention and collect rainwater for irrigation purposes. Homeowners should water lawns no more than once a week and only when needed. Adding mulch to flower beds also helps reduce water evaporation. 

Identifying and Fixing Foundation Damage Caused by Dry Conditions

If homeowners notice cracks in their home’s floors, walls, basement, or crawl space, they may have identified a problem with the home’s foundation. Other key indicators of foundation problems due to changing soil conditions and soil erosion, which can be caused by sustained drought conditions, include bowing foundation walls and tilted or falling chimneys. Cracks or separations between floors and walls, which can allow water to seep inside the home, or around windows and doors are other signs of a settling foundation. Foundation issues can be costly to repair if not identified and the underlying problem fixed quickly. A cracked foundation can also cause major problems in a flood or major rainstorm. The soil conditions around a home can have a major impact on the health of the home’s foundation over time. To identify small foundation problems before they become big ones, contact local foundation repair professionals for a free home foundation inspection and repair estimate.