Drought Response in Montana: Who does What . . . and When?

Montana has five stages to guide drought management. Increasing drought severity triggers progressively more intensive response at the state level. Explore the tabs below to understand what types drought management and response actions correspond to each stage of drought, and which agency or actor is responsible for each. 
USDM Trigger - None to D0 (Abnormally Dry) in one or more counties

Response Actions Responsible Party

Response Actions 

Responsible Party 

Communications & Coordination


Weekly recommendations to U.S. Drought Monitor 

Monitoring Subcommittee 

Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee Meetings (March - October, as warranted) 


April and July Water Supply and Drought Forecast Reports 


Local water supply outreach and communications 

Local watershed groups 

Monitoring & Assessment 


Drought monitoring 

Monitoring Subcommittee 

Calculate metrics and maintain drought indicators dashboard 


Develop Montana Mesonet (meteorological and soil moisture monitoring network) 


Maintain Montana Drought Impacts Reporter 


Conditions monitoring 

DWSAC & Partners 

Statewide streamflows and temperatures 


Reservoir levels and water supplies 


Forests and rangelands   


Chronically dewatered/ high priority streams for instream flow leasing 


Fish populations, water body fishing use, and harvest 


Aquatic invasive species (AIS) 


Game populations and WMA conditions 


Crop Progress and Condition Reports, monthly Dec-Mar, then weekly Apr-Nov 


Groundwater levels in aquifers 


Groundwater quality  


Surface water quality based on designated beneficial use 


Public water supply systems  


Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) 


D1 (Moderate Drought) in one or more counties

Response Actions Responsible Party
Response Actions Responsible Party
Communications & Coordination
Communicate worsening conditions to affected stakeholders, including federal agencies, Montana Office of Tourism, Board of Outfitters, and citizens DWSAC, local watershed groups
Issue press release on fire conditions, prevention, mitigation and education DNRC
Meet with local groups to discuss flow conditions and response FWP, DNRC
Communicate best practices to reduce fish loss (proper handling, irrigation diversions) FWP, DNRC 
Issue drought newsletter for public water suppliers DEQ
Conditions Assessment & Reporting
Identify streams subject to fishing restrictions and/or instream water rights call if conditions worsen FWP
Assess potential for economic damage to agricultural sector if conditions continue or worsen DOA, DOL

D2 (Severe) in one or more counties + convergence of evidence

Other Triggers/ Rules Response Actions Responsible Party
Other Triggers/ Rules Response Actions Responsible Party
Restrictions or Relief
Hunting Regulations Evaluate game populations and implement hunting and/or access restrictions where warranted FWP
Angling Restrictions  Implement Hoot owl restrictions (where warranted) FWP
FWP Water Right Call Protocol  Implement instream flow call protocol (where warranted) FWP
Fire Restrictions Coordinate fire and travel restrictions on state lands; and state land closures (where warranted) FWP, DNRC, counties
Support and communicate any county level fire restrictions DNRC
Drinking Water Rules Issue health advisories, boil orders if warranted DEQ
HAB Guidance Beach closures for harmful algal blooms (if/where warranted) DEQ, DPHHS, FWP
Funding or Resource Support
Administer Emergency Grant/Loan Program  DNRC 
Authorize environmental contingency funding (if warranted)  Governor’s Office 
Coordinate counseling services (USDA)  DOL, DOA 

D2 + conditions, forecasts, impacts, and/or DWSAC recommendation


Response Actions Responsible Party
Response Actions Responsible Party
Initiate State Emergency Declaration Process
Prepare declaration for Governor & Review DES & DWSAC
Issue MT Emergency Declaration Governor's Office
Communications & Coordination
Issue Press release Governor's Office
Regulatory Relief
Ease motor vehicle restrictions DOT
Relaxation of cattle inspection requirements DOL
Consider emergency haying or grazing on selected WMAs, following associated environmental review and selection process and evaluate Trust Lands available for leasing for emergency grazing FWP

D2 for 8 consecutive weeks or D3+ (Extreme or Exceptional) in one or more counties


Response Actions Responsible Party
Response Actions Responsible Party
Disaster Designation
Seek USDA Secretarial disaster designation (Fast Track or Request) USDA - FSA
Communications & Coordination
Issue press release Governor's Office
Funding or Resource Support
Conduct damage assessments, coordinate relief with federal agencies (USDA, SBA) DOL, DOA
Assess tourism impacts, coordinate relief with federal agencies (SBA small business loans) Commerce


MT Department of Agriculture (DOA), MT Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC), MT Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), MT Department of Transportation (DOT), MT Department of Commerce (Commerce), MT Department of Military Affairs – Disaster and Emergency Services  (DES), MT Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), MT Department of Livestock (DOL), MT Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), U.S. Department of Interior – Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), U.S. Department of Interior – U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Department of Agriculture – Farm Services Agency (FSA), Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee (DWSAC),  Small Business Administration (SBA), MT Climate Office (MCO), MT State Library (MSL), MT Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG), Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
Drought past – and future
Drought is often described as a hazard, but it’s helpful to think of drought as something to expect – a regular, recurring part of Montana’s past, current, and future climate. Drought is not a hazard we can avoid, like a lightning storm or an avalanche, nor is its onset sudden, like a tornado or flood. Instead, drought is often an annual reality that gradually develops over time, and we must do our best to expect and prepare for it.

Operational and administrative framework

Knowing who is responsible for each aspect of drought management in Montana is a huge part of making sure resources are efficiently allocated and delivered to local communities during a drought. Montana's operational and administrative framework for drought management identifies the key players involved in state-level management and shows the pathway from drought monitoring and assessment to state and federal-level declarations, which are what triggers the delivery of resources to local communities. Some of the key partners and their roles in drought management are:

Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee (DWSAC) - DWSAC is the statutorily-defined committee that integrates state, federal, tribal, and local entities that are responsible for managing natural resources and supporting constituents affected by drought. DWSAC is chaired by a representative of the Governor’s Office and comprises seven additional voting members representing state agencies with direct roles in drought management, including the Montana Departments of: Agriculture (DOA); Commerce; Environmental Quality (DEQ); Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP); Livestock (DOL); Military Affairs – Disaster and Emergency Services (DES); and Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). Members aid in assessing, responding to, and preparing for drought, and they also provide a range of expertise, knowledge, and technical assistance. DWSAC meets semi-regularly from March to October, as conditions warrant.

Drought Monitoring Subcommittee (Monitoring Subcommittee) - The Monitoring Subcommittee leads the weekly assessment of statewide drought conditions that provides the state's recommendation to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It is composed of representatives from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC); Montana State Library (MSL), Montana Climate Office (MCO), and the National Weather Service (NWS). The Monitoring Subcommittee is supported by a large network of affiliated federal, tribal, state, and local professionals who provide on-the-ground observations and water supply information.

Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Entities - DWSAC and the Monitoring Subcommittee are supported by federal, state, tribal, and local partners who help assess conditions and coordinate resources. Federal partners provide meteorological and hydrologic data, as well as financial assistance and planning programs. They include: NWS, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA), the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Tribal governments and local partners report conditions and impacts and help to identify community needs and implement science-based solutions to address drought and water security. They include county and city governments, local planning organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other state partners, such as the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) Groundwater Information Center and Montana State University Extension Service.

Figure caption: Montana's operational framework depicts the processes for drought monitoring and assessment, emergency declarations, and delivery of resources to local communities.
Horizontal Chart of Local Communities Response Actions
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Operational and administrative framework

Operational Flow Chart showing which agency responds when during a drought issue
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