Drought Preparedness


Image of USDA Drought Map of July 2012
This map is used for illustrative purposes only


Tips for Drought Preparedness

If your garden is on watering restriction, contact your public works department to see if it's currently legal to water flower beds with watering cans or hoses. In many instances, it's only illegal to use sprinklers for lawns. If you use a sprinkler to water your lawn during a water use restriction, a first offense may bring only a warning, but repeat offenders may be fined. Follow state and local restrictions on watering lawns and washing cars.

Consider the water wasted in the household that could be used in the landscape. Before your bath or shower collect the water that otherwise would go down the drain during the initial mixing of hot and cold. Use a bucket or large watering can to collect the water while you adjust the temperature.

  • Place a bucket to collect water that drips from your air conditioner.
  • Position buckets to collect rainwater from your downspouts, or turn the spouts so that rain goes into flower beds or collection vessels instead of paved areas.

Allow lawn grasses to grow slightly higher during times of drought.

Consider Native Plants. Indigenous plants can take a full year to become established, but will always be the survivalists of the local landscape.

Consider deep-rooted plants that are sometimes considered drought-tolerant, but are actually better able to access ground water. Forget the myth that xeriscaping consists of cacti and succulents, and examine the many Xeriscaping and Conservation links for gardeners on the Web.

Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Become familiar with heat disorder symptoms, heat-related illnesses and other safety tips.

Use dishwashers and washing machines for full loads only. Instead of hot water, consider using cold or warm for laundry. Don't use the heat drying option on your dishwasher, and consider using a clothesline instead of the dryer. This will keep your house cooler as well.

Turn the water off when you brush your teeth -- keeping the faucet on can waste up to 15 gallons of water every time you brush. Also, rather than letting the water run, fill the basin when you shave, or when you wash dishes.

Replace the air conditioner's filter if it's dirty and check to see that the coils are free of debris.

  • Place window air conditioners in the shade.
  • Use weather stripping and caulk to insulate doors and windows.
  • Check to see that your attic is well ventilated, which will make the rooms below cooler.
  • Pull down shades and close curtains during the day.
  • Consider using a fan on cooler days or at night - fans use one-tenth the energy of an air conditioner.

Scorching days may bring heavy smog, which can damage the lungs. Everyone is affected by smog, but children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.

  • Heed air quality warnings on news broadcasts.
  • Use public transportation, bicycle, walk or carpool.
  • Keep your car tuned and your tires properly inflated. Make sure your car's air conditioner is not leaking coolant.
  • Don't top off the gas tank; this releases smog-forming pollutants into the air. Try to avoid filling the tank on heavy smog days, or fill up during the cooler morning and evening hours.
  • Avoid aggressive driving. Jackrabbit accelerations (flooring the gas pedal), excessive speed and hauling heavy loads increase emissions and decrease fuel efficiency.

Farm Drought Preparedness Tips

  • Examine your water use efficiency and irrigation needs.

    If you already irrigate, contact your agricultural agent about using the Wisconsin Irrigation Scheduling Program (WISP). This research-based program assists growers in determining frequency and amounts of irrigation (if any) throughout the growing season; it can be extremely helpful during a drought. If you do not currently irrigate, consult with your agricultural agent and irrigation system dealers now -- before a drought occurs. Emergency irrigation systems may be difficult to put in place because of permitting processes and possible shortages of equipment in mid-season (dealers generally sell equipment during the winter and spring). Look carefully at irrigation systems as a long-term investment.

  • Keep up-to-date forage inventories.

    Accurate forage inventories in silos, hay mows and other storage areas help you determine feed supplies during a drought. Note the amount and accessibility of each lot of uniform quality forage. Your local feed representative or agricultural agent can assist you with this process.

  • Consider alternative on-farm related businesses.

    Diversification can be a good long-term approach to revenue shortfalls from drought. Some potential businesses include:

    1. Alternative crops such as shiitake mushrooms, ginseng, specialty vegetables, greenhouse plants, dried and/or cut flowers, etc.
    2. Alternative livestock, such as llamas, ducks, bees, deer for venison or mink.
    3. Forestry, including cord wood, maple syrup, apple orchards and Christmas trees.
    4. Non-production farm-related ventures such as camping, fee hunting / shooting preserves, trout ponds, farm vacations, bed and breakfast establishments, summer camps on the farm, herd sitting, boat and camper storage, and farm markets.
    5. Home-based enterprises including catering services, upholstery, secretarial service / word processing, taxidermy, etc.
      • Contact your Cooperative Extension office or your Small Business Development Center for more information.
      • Financial issues. Continue to pursue government drought assistance programs if you have not yet received relief; your county Extension office can help you through the application process. Also, see your accountant about tax issues related to the drought. If you received federal disaster payments, you may be able to postpone reporting them on your income taxes for a year. Likewise, if you sold livestock because of the drought, you may be able to postpone reporting gains on the sale for as long as two years afterward.
      • Crop testing for feed. Nutritional values of crops are often affected by drought. Have fresh forage tested for high nitrate levels and nutritional value. Have oats and barley tested for nutritional value; nitrates usually are not a problem. Consult with your livestock nutritionist about corn quality and use. Test for mycotoxins in grain fields.
      • Soil testing. Because of the potential for herbicide and fertilizer carryover, soil testing is very important following a drought year. See the fact sheets "Fertilizer Application After a Drought," and "Herbicide Concerns After a Drought Year," for test recommendations.
      • Discuss financial and feed assistance in the early phase of a drought. The earlier you enroll in feed assistance or financial assistance programs, the sooner you will be eligible for help. See your county agricultural agent about eligibility for grants, loans and other types of assistance. Likewise, contact your lender about potential problems before you are in over your head. You may be able to renegotiate current payment plans and establish an emergency plan if the drought persists and additional financing is needed.
      • Look to your county agricultural agent for up-to-date information on managing during a drought. As part of a network of county, state and national research and field experts, your agent receives new information daily on managing during a drought. If your agent doesn't have the answer to your question, he or she can find the answer or refer you to the person for help.
      • Adjust fertilizer rates. If you haven't already applied fertilizers, adjust your rates based on lower yield expectancy for the drought year. If little or no production is expected, consider skipping an application.
      • Be prepared to use mechanical weed control. Many herbicides lose effectiveness during dry periods, making mechanical weed control your second line of defense against weeds.
      • Protect livestock from heat. Adequate water, shade and ventilation in buildings are critical during hot, humid weather.
      • Consider letting livestock out of buildings to cool them at night. Call a veterinarian if heat stress is a concern.
      • Consider alternative crops. If your fields have less than 12 alfalfa plants per square foot or a 75 percent reduction in corn stand population, consider alternative forages. Some possibilities include sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, silage and millet. Corn silage might be the best forage alternative; even the worst fields have silage potential. Discuss possible options with your agricultural agent.
      • Cull unprofitable cattle. If forage is inadequate, selling unprofitable livestock may be your next best move. Consider culling the bottom 5 to 15 percent. Review your options and the economics of the situation with Extension agents.
      • Recognize the early warning signs of emotional stress. Stress can overwhelm farmers and their families. Some of the warning signs of severe stress include anxiety, depression, anger, violence and withdrawal. If you see these signs in yourself, a family member or friend, get outside assistance.

You will also want to check out:

Washington State University Cooperative Extension Service: There are several locations around the state where you can find more information or ask questions.

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