- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock announced a pilot project Wednesday that could have national implications for better managing the impacts of drought.

Bullock said the state will join the National Drought Resilience Partnership, which will bring the resources of seven federal agencies to watershed groups and communities working on drought issues on the upper Missouri River Basin above Fort Peck Reservoir.

“We’ve been recognized for some time as a leader in proactively addressing drought through planning and mitigation strategies derived from folks on the ground,” Bullock said in a statement. “I’m pleased that we are partnering with the Drought Resilience Partnership to host a demonstration project in Montana.”

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will take the lead on the two-year project, which is expected to cost $400,000 in federal money. The state will give about $455,000 in kind to the project, state officials said. Federal support will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Actions could include better measurement and analysis of water, snowpack and soil moisture data; help in developing and implementing drought plans including funding for Big Sky Watershed Corps AmeriCorps members; and resources that help water users, farmers and irrigation districts measure and conserve water, enhance soil health and complete other projects as part of watershed drought plans.

Lessons learned during the project could lead to the development of a more dedicated, cross-agency national drought preparedness program, according to Anne Castle, assistant secretary for Water and Science with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“There’s already a lot of work in drought preparedness and response at the federal level,” Castle said, “but bringing a multi-agency collaborative model to the ground level is something new. What we want to do is demonstrate how much further we can take drought preparedness planning when federal agencies go ‘all in.’”

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