Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version

Spring 2017


Environmental Studies Undergraduate Student Thesis, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 2017


Copyright © 2017 Matthew Jensby


Climate change is expected to have varied effects on cultural groups across the United States, with Native American communities considered the most vulnerable due to economic disadvantages. There are more Indian Reservations (21) in the northern Great Plains than in any other region, where water resources are vital to community health and stability. However, climate change stands to directly impact available water resources by altering aquatic ecosystems and degrading the quality of accessible water. As such, the primary aim of this study was to develop a hierarchical vulnerability assessment to compare all 21 reservations by potential water resource alteration as a result of future climate change. To measure potential alteration, this study focused on correlating the predicted changes of temperature and precipitation by 2050 to the hydrological capacity within each reservation area. Results from the vulnerability assessment show that Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota has the highest potential for water alteration due to climate change, with the Lower Brulé and Crow Creek reservations following. Because climate predictions are similar across the northern Plains, water capacity within each reservation proved to be the key variable in determining potential alteration. Thus, Fort Berthold has the highest potential for water alteration because the area has the highest water density within reservation borders. The information found in the vulnerability assessment can be used to study further variables regarding climate change on the northern Plains, as well as to focus climate change defenses on the pinpointed reservations.