Preparing for Drought on the Wind River Indian Reservation
The Wind River Indian Reservation in west-central Wyoming is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. In this semi-arid landscape, the glacier and snowpack-fed tributaries of the Wind River are the main source of water. Yet the region has recently experienced frequent, severe droughts that have threatened ranching and farming; subsistence harvesting, hunting, fishing; and other livelihoods.
WHAT: The Wind River Water Code identifies 15 key uses of water on the reservation, ranging from agriculture to fisheries to cultural ceremonies. Balancing water resources for competing demands is challenging, particularly given the lack of scientific information on the vulnerability of the reservation and its resources to future drought. To improve drought preparedness on the reservation, researchers are working with tribal water and resource managers to develop a reservation-wide drought management plan and to produce quarterly summaries that assess drought indicator information for each season.
PRODUCTS: To date, ten quarterly Wind River Drought and Climate Summaries have been produced. These summaries condense complex climate information into a non-technical format, providing a snapshot of the current climate, water, and drought conditions, as well as what conditions might be expected during the following season. These summaries are being used by the Office of the Tribal Water Engineer to make drought declarations for the reservation, as well as by other decision makers throughout the reservation.
Researchers have also completed interviews with the reservation’s water managers to understand how drought impacts the community and to identify management needs. This information is helping to inform the rest of the technical assessment and the drought management plan, which is currently underway.
SIGNIFICANCE: In 2017, the project lead and partners were recognized with a Climate Adaptation Leadership Award from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for "demonstrating exemplary leadership in reducing climate-related threats and promoting adaptation of the nation’s natural resources.” Prior to this work, the Wind River Indian Reservation did not have a process for collecting drought-related data or managing for drought conditions. The drought summaries are already helping the reservation make informed water allocation decisions across many sectors and communities by identifying drought throughout the reservation. The completion of a drought management plan will further support efforts to meet diverse water needs during periods of water stress, ultimately helping to reduce the negative impacts of drought on communities.
Partners: Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes, Office of the Tribal Water Engineer, and Water Resources and Control Board | National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln | High Plains Regional Climate Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln | National Integrated Drought Information System, NOAA | University of Wyoming | Colorado State University | Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative | USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service | USDA’s Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub | USGS Wyoming Cooperative Unit | Wyoming State Climate Office | Western Water Assessment, NOAA
Stakeholders: Eastern Shoshone Tribe | Northern Arapaho Tribe | Wind River Water Resources Control Board