NOAA and Center of the American West : Drought and Community Resilience Workshop 

June 18-20, 2018 
Boulder, CO 

This workshop will revisit the history (including some specific focusing events) of drought in the western US that have influenced approaches to water management, especially focused on where these have led to improving collaborative mechanisms. As all are fully aware, the West is associated with (semi) aridity and drought. This "dryness", experienced as being more extreme during drought, has shaped the images and stories from the first human inhabitants, through the evolution of large watershed agreements, urban development, and interbasin transfers to smaller watershed coalitions in the present.  

There are several lessons drawn, but not always learned, for understanding, shared visions, and planning into the future in the West. In addition, some of these lessons may prove relevant to similar parts of the globe, and even for "wetter" parts of the US that are only now facing closed water systems with often multiple, incommensurate demands and emerging legal conflicts (e.g. the Apalichicola-Chattahoochee-Flint in the SE US). Some "successes" (however defined) at different scales do come to mind, such as the US-Mexico Minute 319 on the Colorado, the Federal-State 1980 Northwest Power Planning Act, the new Groundwater Management Act in California, and the ways in which existing collaborative community-based partnerships (e.g. Montana, Malpais Borderlands, and elsewhere) handle water scarcity. 

Alert to the under-utilized value of history, a set of policy experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University Center for Atmospheric Research asked our Center to coordinate an exploration of historic case studies in which 1) drought afflicted Westerners, and 2) Westerners responded with a) an all-out, take-no-prisoners struggle to seize the resource of water and deny it to others, b) a good spirited-embrace of collaborative problem-solving, even to the point of sharing hardship equitably; c) an erratic and fitful shifting back and forth between those two ways of responding to trouble, or d) some other reaction entirely (denial of the seriousness of the problem? a decision to abandon the area? the creation of an alliance to demand that the federal government come to their rescue? the instant reconfiguring of the local economy to a commodity that requires little water?). 

  • Larry Benson: Hydrologist, Water Resources, USGS. The Mid 12th and Late 13th Century Megadroughts 
  • Steve Lekson: Archaeologist, Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Colorado. The Ancient Hohokam of Southern Arizona       
  • Kevin Sweeny: Nineteenth Century Drought in the Southern Plains 
  • Julie Courtwright: Professor, Department of History, Iowa State University. On the Edge of the Possible: Great Plains Community Response to the 1890s Drought 
  • Donald C. Jackson: Professor, Department of History, Lafayette College. The California Drought of 1897-98 and the Multiple Arch Dam      
  • William Rowley: Professor Emeritus, University of Nevada, Reno Reno in the Rain Shadow and the Tahoe Response: A Drought Narrative 
  • Leisl Carr Childers: Historian, History and Public Lands, Colorado State University. Water Rights and Grazing Allotments in the Great Basin 
  • Alicia Dewey: Professor, Department of History, Biola University. Rainmaking, Waterworks, Treaties, and Lawsuits: Responses to Drought in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1895-1960 
  • Matthew R. Sanderson: Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, University of Kanas, Editor of Agriculture and Human Values. Responses to Drought in the Ogallala-High Plains Region 
  • Mike Connor, Partner, WilmerHale. Case Studies of Successful and Failed Innovation and the Role of Leadership 
  • Darryl Vigil: Co-Director, Water & Tribes in the Colorado Basin. Colorado River Ten Tribes Partnership                        
  • Tom Romero: Professor, Department of History, University of Denver. Water, Water Everywhere…and No Where: Immigration and the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation 
  • Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Professor, Department of History, Iowa State University. Kansas in the 1930s: Coping with Dust Bowl Conditions 
  • Sarah S. Elkind: Professor, Department of History, San Diego State University. Planning vs Local Control: A Parable 
  • Burke Griggs: Professor, School of Law, Washburn University. The History & Evolution of Drought Narratives in Shaping the West 
  • Michael Geary: Program Director, Department of Historical and Classical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The San Luis Valley: A (Perhaps Cautionary?) Tale of Water Resources in the Arid West 
  • Bonnie Lynn-Sherow: Professor, Department of History, Kansas State University. Scarcity and Displacement: A Spring, a Town, and the Dam that Got Away 
  • Christian Harrison: Independent Historian, The Creation of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) 
  • Brian Cannon, Professor, Department of History, BYI: Responses Oregon’s Klamath Basin 2001 Drought 
  • James Sherow: Professor, Department of History, Kansas State University. History & Evolution of Drought Narratives in Shaping the West