Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Climate Risk Management 19 (2018) 61–82


© 2017 The Authors.

Open access


Drought is a complex phenomenon manifested through interactions between biophysical and social factors. At the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) in west-central Wyoming, water shortages have become increasingly common since the turn of the 21st century. Here we discuss the 2015 water year as an exemplar year, which was characterized by wetter-than-normal conditions across the reservation and, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, remained drought-free throughout the year. Yet parts of the reservation experienced harmful water shortages, or “microdrought” conditions, during the growing season in 2015. In this assessment of the 2015 water year at the WRIR we: (1) describe the hydroclimatic and social processes under way that contributed to the 2015 water year micro-drought in the Little Wind Basin; (2) compare water availability conditions within and between other basins at the WRIR to illustrate how microdroughts can result from social and environmental features unique to local systems; and (3) describe how a collaborative project is supporting drought preparedness at the WRIR. We combine a social science assessment with an analysis of the hydroclimate to deconstruct how shortages manifest at the WRIR. We provide insights from this study to help guide drought assessments at local scales.