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Drought is perhaps the most obstinate and pernicious of the dramatic events that Nature conjures up. It can last longer and extend across larger areas than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes. At its most severe, drought creates vast, windblown dust bowls—eroding the landscape, damaging terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitat, contributing to widespread wildfire, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and dashing hopes and dreams.

Drought may be the last straw in driving farm and ranch families off their land and livestock producers out of business. It brings hardship to water-dependent enterprises such as commercial fishing, marinas, river outfitters and guides, landscapers, golf courses, and water theme parks. In many small communities, downturns in farming, ranching, and recreation have a rippling effect, causing loss of income for seed and implement retailers, recreation equipment suppliers, and Main Street businesses—from grocery stores to clothing outlets, entertainment operations, restaurants, and banks. This in turn creates revenue shortfalls for local governments.

Drought can have devastating impacts on the lives of migrant agricultural workers and people employed in seasonal, recreation-dependent jobs. Drought can lead to tough decisions regarding allocation of water and result in stringent water-use limitations. Drought can also cause problems in ensuring safe drinking water as well as adequate water supplies for municipal, county, and rural fire-fighting efforts and for the dilution of wastewater effluent.

In large managed river basins and water systems such as the Columbia, Missouri, the state and federal California reservoir systems, the Colorado River, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint, and others, drought creates or exacerbates conflicts about who should get water. The most common conflicts pit older, established uses such as agriculture and navigation against newer uses such as recreation and water for growing municipal populations, and water for direct human use against water for ecosystems.   
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National Drought Policy Commission Report 3