The evolution of United States (US) national and federal drought policies is examined, and the relative effectiveness of the hierarchy of federal, state and local drought management programs and practices is evaluated within the context of changing philosophies of water management. While there is no ‘national’ drought management policy, there is a strong federal policy that attempts to coordinate the management responses of numerous federal agencies. Drought and flood management comprise the key components of assuring national ‘water security’. Early 20th century US water resources management was very effective in providing the essential prerequisites of ‘water and economic security’ through a rapid expansion of water storage capacity, flood control, hydropower, irrigation and conveyance facilities as the basis for a robust national economic development program. Increasing water supply capacity has proven to be the most effective strategic drought management option. Today, federal drought management policies and programs focus mainly on demand reduction strategies, buttressed by a powerful array of environmental regulatory programs that strive to attain sustainable resource use. Climate uncertainty will again require greater focus on supply-side options that increase water supply robustness and resilience, especially in the growing urban areas of the semi-arid west.

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