Field of Dreams or Dream Team? Assessing Two Models for Drought Impact Reporting in the Semiarid Southwest
To make decisions about drought declarations, status, and relief funds, decision makers need high-quality local-level drought impact data. In response to this need in Arizona the Arizona DroughtWatch program was created, which includes an online drought impacts reporting system. Despite extensive and intensive collaboration and consultation with the intended public participants, Arizona DroughtWatch has had few consistent users and has failed to live up to its goal of providing decision makers or the public with high-quality drought impacts data. Based on an evaluation of the DroughtWatch program, the authors found several weaknesses in the public-participation reporting-system model including that participation was reduced because of participants’ over-commitment and time constraints, consultation fatigue, and confusion about the value of qualitative impact reports. Based on these findings, the authors recommend that professional resource agency personnel provide the backbone of drought impacts monitoring to ensure that decision makers receive the high-quality, consistent information they require. Public participation in impacts monitoring efforts can also be improved using this model. Professional observers can help attract volunteers who consider access to high-quality data an incentive to visit the Arizona DroughtWatch site and who may be more likely to participate in impacts monitoring if they see examples of how the information is being used by decision makers.