Wind River Reservation Drought Preparedness

Shannon M. McNeeley
Posted on: 4/28/2020 - Updated on: 4/30/2020

Posted by

Shannon McNeeley

Project Summary

Frequent and intense droughts have caused ecological and socioeconomic impacts in Wyoming. A collaborative project between the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, university and federal agency scientists, and drought experts was initiated to provide critical decision support tools to help the tribe better prepare for and respond to drought events.


The Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) in central-western Wyoming is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes. The WRIR experiences frequent drought events that have led to devastating impacts to their social and ecological systems. For example, during the most 2012-2013 drought, unexpected low winter runoff lead to a reduction in the irrigation season, which forced several local cattle producers to liquidate their herds and hay fields to go fallow. This caused considerable economic hardship to those producers and to the secondary and tertiary businesses on the reservation. Other impacts have included reduction to instream flows for riparian ecosystem health and fisheries, vegetation changes impacting wildlife, increased wildfires, and impacts to domestic uses of water. This project was a collaboration between the tribes and university and agency scientists and drought planners to provide rigorous drought science and decision tools needed by tribal water managers, tribal officials, and other key natural resource managers to prepare for droughts and climate changes now and into the future.


This project began in 2014 and was an interdisciplinary, technical assessment of key social-ecological vulnerabilities, risks, and response capacities of the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) to inform development of decision tools to support drought preparedness and a the development of a reservation-wide drought plan. It provided opportunities for: 1) development of tribal technical capacity for drought preparedness, and 2) educational programming guided by tribal needs, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), and indigenous observations of drought for tribal members, with a broader goal of transferring lessons learned to other tribes and non-tribal entities. This project had foundational partnerships between the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the WRIR, Colorado State University, the High Plains Regional Climate Center (HPRCC) and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the North Central Climate Science Center (NCCSC), University of Wyoming EPSCoR, and multiple other government agencies and university partners to develop decision tools to support drought preparedness. Other partners included the USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub and NRCS, the Western Water Assessment at CU Boulder, NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, BIA, Great Northern LCC, and other North Central University Consortium scientists. The WRIR Drought Management Plan integrates state-of-the art climate science with hydrologic, social, and ecological vulnerabilities and risks, and identifies response capacities and strategies to support the Tribal Water Code and related resources management. Funding was provided by the USGS, NIDIS, BIA along with leveraged resources through NOAA RISA, UWY, CSU, UNL, USFWS, Water Resources Data System & Wyoming State Climate Office, among others.

Outcomes and Conclusions

We are in the final stages of completing the Wind River Drought Plan and expect to be finished by June 2020.


McNeeley SM. 2020. Wind River Reservation Drought Preparedness. [Case study on a project of the Wind River Indian Reservation and partners]. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated April 2020)

Project Leads

Shannon McNeeley

Project Contact

Shannon McNeeley

[email protected]

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

Wind River Office of the Tribal Water Engineer

Affiliated Organizations

Colorado State University is a public research university located in Fort Collins.